I’m a bit behind in updates because yesterday, Thursday, was a packed day, and we didn’t get home until 11pm, which is pretty late for these old farts. But what a day it was; wonderful memories were made, and so much was learned.
Everything you read in ‘what to see in Lisbon’ says you must include a visit to Sintra. Since it’s about 25 km outside Lisbon, we decided to book a tour that would provide us not only the transportation, but also a guide that would fill in all the information for us. We chose one that was a bit different and we are so glad we did.
When visiting Sintra, you are really visiting a larger area, and another Unesco World Heritage site. The sites that are typically visited are Pena Park and Palace, the Moorish Castle and the National Palace. We did some of those and a bit more.
Pena Palace and Park
Late in the 19th century Sintra became the first centre of European Romantic architecture. Ferdinand II turned a ruined monastery into a castle where he used Gothic, Egyptian, Moorish and Renaissance elements. The multi-colours and fantastical shapes make it look a bit like a Disneyland creation, but when understood with the extra explanations, it was fascinating. Even though we did not go into the palace, we saw so much on the outside, where our guide explained to us all these different elements in the carvings, tiles, arches, and design. She also traced some of the Portuguese royal history and explained some of the personalities of the royal family of this era. We learned so much from having Ruth as our guide.
Ferdinand rebuilt the monastery and kept the same foundational structure, shown below. The chapel inside was one of the most beautiful I have seen. The sculptures and colours were not overly ornate, but evocative and wonderful to look at.
Most people visit the palace only, evidenced by the long line waiting to buy tickets to enter. We did something bit different. We walked up to the palace (yes more hills) through Pena Park. This 18-acre park was curated by Ferndinand by collecting tree and plant species from around the world, blending local and exotic species of trees, visible from many paths, often with small ponds or waterfalls beside them. You could walk many times in this park and never follow the same path, providing a peaceful and pleasant journey. It was a great way to learn more about the park.
We did not visit the Moorish castle, but could see it from the Pena Palace. This castle was conquered in the 1140’s by Henrique, who also conquered Lisbon. It was quite a spectacle to see.
Quinta Da Regaleira
Sintra became the playground for the rich and famous in the late 1800’s because of its proximity to Lisbon but cooler temperatures, providing a way to ‘escape the city’.
We did visit the fantastical home of Carvalho Monteiro. His family became incredibly wealthy from diamonds in Brazil, and bought it home to Portugal. He bought the property in 1892 for a song, and proceeded to build a bewildering place where he could collect symbols that reflected his interests and ideologies, which included alchemy, Masonry, the Knights Templar, and the Rosicrucians. With the assistance of the Italian architect Luigi Manini, he designed his main house exterior in the Manueline style, which was used by the Portuguese in late 1600’s. It incorporates many maritime elements and other elements form the Age of Discovery.
One of the more fascinating things in the estate was the Initiation Well. This was not a well, but an inverted tower, with a spiral staircase descending almost 30 m into the ground. Although Monteiro never left any journals or information on his design choices, many believe that the spacing of the stairs and the star at the bottom indicate a leaning towards tarot mysticism and Freemasonry rituals. The other ‘well’ was the unfinished well. Very different.
The ‘well’ linked to a series of tunnels and small ponds.
There were lots of other interesting and thought provoking things to see on the property. It was overall an interesting tour and gave a bit of insight into characters of the late 1800’s.
Cabo Da Roca
On the way back, we had the opportunity to visit the western-most point on continental Europe: Cabo da Roca. The wind off the Atlantic was howling up the cliffs up to where were were, and the waves were crashing onto the rocks below. We decided it was not a good place to paddle but we loved being there.
Lisbon Under the Stars
We capped the night off with a multi-media show “Lisbon Under the Stars” in the Carmel Convent. We found out about this show when we visited the convent a couple days before, and having seen a show similar to this in the Forum in Rome, we figured it was not to be missed, and are we ever glad we stayed up.
The showed traced the history of the church, presented in 10 chapters, from his initial construction in 1389, through the Age of Discoveries, the earthquake, up to modern times with the formation of republic in 1910, and the Angola wars/overthrow of Salazar. The show was projected onto the walls and arches of the church and included not only graphics and pictures but used videos of dancers and musicians to communicate the story. It was so well done, especially because it used all three sides of the church, with different images all around.
I didn’t include all the pictures, but you get the idea of how spectacular this was. It was a great way to say good-bye to Lisbon, since the today we picked up our rental car and started to explore outside of Lisbon, on our way up to Porto.