A bewildering, bewitching, and beguiling palace…
Even before Won and I had any thought of moving to Portugal, a few years back I stumbled across an image that completely enchanted me. I remember telling Won at the time that I wanted to see this place. Who knew that a few years later, I’d be living within a 20 minute drive of it?!
This was the image I saw. It is called the “Initiation Well” at Quinta da Regaleira and as you can see, you can walk down through the well via a winding staircase that encircles it. As I did more research and saw more pictures of the palace and its stunning grounds, I knew this would be one of the first places we would go see when the stay at home order lifted.
Like a present to its people after the long, grueling lock down, the government re-opened nearly all its cultural and historical monuments, palaces, museums and landmarks free of charge on Monday, 18 May. A few weeks ago, itching to get out of the house, we drove up to the palace just to see where it was located and get a peek through the closed gates and over some of the walls. It just reinforced my interest! I took the following images that day.
Even though it re-opened there were restrictions and new requirements imposed in the wake of COVID-19. For one, they were not providing the prerecorded handheld devices and headsets that guide you as you walk the property; a real bummer. Additionally, we were required to maintain a safe distance from others at all times and were required to wear masks. Some areas on the property were closed due renovation work or because the size of the space did not allow for safe distancing. Unfortunately, this was the case with the Initiation Well. Turns out, we could look down into the well and walk down one level, but not to the bottom.
The day was perfect for roaming 4 hectares (9.88 acres) of graded, richly landscaped property that included lush gardens, winding pathways, fairy tale-like structures, lakes, grottoes, wells, caves, fountains, and an extensive enigmatic system of tunnels that connect to the two spiraling wells. It was a clear day and a very comfortable 22 C (72 F).
The word quinta, in addition to being the word for “fifth” in the Portuguese language (e.g. quinta feira means Thursday, the fifth day of the week), it is also the traditional word for “estate.” The land where the estate is located was owned by D. Ermelinda Monteiro de Almeida, Viscountess of Regaleira (1768 – 1858) which is how it came by its name. [Click here to learn what the abbreviation “D.” means when found in front of a name.] Interesting side note, the Viscountess had 13 brothers and sisters and died at the age of 90!
While the property had various owners dating back to the early 1600s, the Viscountess, at the time a Baroness, acquired the property in the 1840s and built a summer home there. The property was then acquired at a public auction in 1892 by Carvalho Monteiro (1848-1920) for 25,000 réis.
[I spent 2 hours trying to figure out what the value of 25,000 réis would be in today’s euros. This included learning the history of Portuguese currency evolution and searching for historical currency conversion and inflation websites. Oddly, the historical currency converter I found went back to 1892 (and earlier), but only forward to 2015. Then I had to use an inflation calculator to get to 2020. After multiple attempts that produced odd results (like he bought it for less than one euro), I abandoned that effort and tried to convert the original sale price into 1892 gold value and then tried to calculate the value using today’s gold prices. Then I dragged Won into the abyss with me, and after nearly overheating the calculator on my phone, we both gave up on the whole exercise. It looks like Monteiro may have acquired it for a steal, but I can’t be sure. Moving on…]
It was Monteiro, an entomologist, bibliophile, and well-known collector of watches, musical instruments, artistic silverware, and antiques who really invested in the property and made it what we know today. Monteiro inherited a huge fortune from his family and further enhanced it by selling coffee and precious stones in Brazil. He eventually earned the nickname Monteiro dos Milhões (Monteiro the Millionaire).
Monteiro hired scenographer-architect Luigi Mannini (1848-1936) who employed a mixture of Roman, Gothic, Romantic, and Manueline styles to reflect Monteiro’s philosophy, ideologies, and cultural interests and frequently incorporated symbols and iconography into the design at the direction of Monteiro. There are many resources online that delve into this aspect of the estate, but there is no way I could do it justice so I only touch on it occasionally in my commentary. Work began on the property in 1904 and much of it was completed by 1910. Quinta da Regaleira was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995 and opened to the public in 1998.
For anyone who has had the opportunity to visit Quinta da Regaleira in the past, I hope you enjoy a walk down memory lane. If this is new to you, you’re going to love it!
Here is a map of the property. Keep in mind, these are 4 hectares/9.88 acres of graded land, so it can be a workout navigating the property (comfortable, practical shoes are strongly recommended). To help orient you, the Palácio (palace) is at the bottom of the map, the Poço Iniciático (Initiation Well) is near the top close to the legend and the lago (lake) is at the bottom left.
Whew! Now that we have all of that out of the way, let’s dive in!! It’s a feast for the eyes.
The palace is amazing. The first image below is the side of the house facing the gardens. The view from inside the house looking out across the gardens also includes views of the Moors Castle and Pena Castle higher up on the hills above. Those castles will be the focus of future posts.
The Manueline details on the exterior of the house are exquisite.
The image below is the front of the house and includes the main entrance. There are two ways to enter the house from the front terrace. One door leads into a foyer with a mosaic tiled floor and the other door leads directly into the living room. The interior doors in the living room are clad in red velvet with impressive metalwork.
The interior of the house has five levels. The basement includes storage, the male servants rooms and the kitchen with an elevator to get food to the main floor. The ground floor is a series of connecting rooms which includes the living, dining and billiards rooms and several other small rooms. The first upper floor has family bedrooms and a dressing room. The second upper floor includes Monteiro’s office and the female servants rooms. The third upper floor has the ironing room and access to an upper terrace. The upper floors were closed to the public when we were there.
The living room is small, but beautiful. It has four floor to ceiling arched windows with interior carved wood shutters. The fireplace is impressively large with intricate carvings. The ceiling mimics a Gothic cathedral. The floor is highly adorned as well, but I was too struck by the other elements and missed getting a photo.
The other rooms on the main floor were interesting simply because their floors, walls and ceilings were unique and masterful.
The Roman Catholic chapel or capela, which sits quite close to the palace and reflects the same architectural style, is just exquisite. We could not go inside, but the door was open so we could see the interior. I also learned that despite its small size, it has several floors. The chapel includes beautiful frescoes of Christ, the Virgin Mary, Teresa of Avila and St. Anthony.
Next to and on the hill above the chapel is the estufa (greenhouse). These images are of the front of the greenhouse and a peek at the back via a sweet little set of stairs and adjoining pathway. The other is of the view from the greenhouse looking over the church across the property.
Now I’ll take you through the extensive gardens and all the enchanting wonders that lie within!
We chose to start at the Poço Iniciático (Initiation Well) near the top of the property and work our way down. On our way there, we passed by the Torre da Regaleira (Regaleira Tower), which I captured from below, and Gruta da Leda (Leda’s Cave).
The Poço Iniciático (Initiation Well) contains nine platforms, which are said to be reminiscent of the Divine Comedy by Dante and the nine circles of Hell, the nine sections of Purgatory and the nine skies which constitute Paradise. As mentioned earlier, we could not go down to the bottom, but were allowed to go down one level and then exit. Here are the images I captured. The first two are of the pathway leading up to the entrance of the well. The last image is the area where we exited with benches carved into the rocks.
After the well, we went to find the Portal dos Guardiães (Portal of the Guardians) which overlooks a large terrace. The terrace is flanked by two towers, one of which overlooks the Lago da Cascata (Lake of the Waterfall). Monteiro used this area as a kind of amphitheater for performances due to the acoustics it created. Across from the terrace, the Portal of the Guardians has two lateral turrets on either end of the main structure and a covered lookout in the center above an opening that becomes a tunnel leading to the Initiation Well, which was closed to maintain social distancing.
And for your amusement, here is a series of muscleman poses Won performed for me in one of the terrace towers (he was very sweet to allow me to include them; he didn’t know they would be made public at the time).
He’s not completely goofy though…
Right next to the terrace and Portal of the Guardians is the Lago da Cascata (Lake of the Waterfall). If you stand in the Zigurate tower you can look down into Lago da Cascata. We were able to cross the bridge you see in the image below, but not go down to the stepping stones, which are typically open to the public.
From Lago da Cascata it was a short walk to the Gruta do Oriente (Eastern Cave). It was interesting to see benches carved into the stone inside and tucked away out of sight. The caves went pretty far back, but were blocked due to the restrictions in place. I’m sure it would have been fun to explore since there is a tunnel structure that links certain locations!
We meandered over to the Patamar do Ténis (tennis court) which included a charming walled walkway above the tennis court. It terminated in a delightful fairy tale tower in the corner. Everything, like much of the entire property, was covered in moss and flowers. The adorned tower had a Juliette-style balcony and a stone spiral staircase that wound down to the tennis court with another set of steps going up that led to the Aquarium (which was not open). You need to look closely to see all the details. So charming!
Right next door to the tennis courts was the Fonte da Abundância (Fountain of Abundance) which refers to purification, recalling baptism. Directly across from the Fonte da Abundância is a meeting space with a bench arranged in a semicircle that includes a throne and an altar.
Our last stop was the lago (lake). Everything we saw was a feast for the eyes. The lake included a sweet, arched stone bridge and steps that went down to the water. The lake has multiple stone arches along one side. It was all so lush it’s difficult to discern between the water, the bridge and the plants!
To cap off this delicious visual tour of Quinta da Regaleira, here are a few more images of plants, flowers, statuary, spiral staircases, the walkway that skirts one side of the property and water features we found along the way. Note that the very last picture in the group below is of a HUGE leaf. It was easily 1.2 meters (4′) across!
And, one final look at this magnificent palace with the church spire in the foreground.
I hope you enjoyed this post. I loved putting it together because it was a chance for me to revisit it through all the images I took (and believe me, you only saw a curated list!). My blatantly obvious plan is to inspire and entice you to come visit. I’d love to see Quinta da Regaleira again and again and again and hopefully you will be just the excuse I need to go back multiple times. Next time, however, I hope I won’t look like this!
Until then, stay safe, stay healthy, and stay in touch!
From Portugal with love,