We saw buddhas for sure, but surprisingly, there was so much more!
With all the upheaval we have been experiencing due to our recent move, it seemed appropriate that our first outing would be to a place that positions itself as a “garden of peace and tranquility.” The Bacalhôa Buddha Eden, located in Quinta dos Loridos, is an hour’s drive north of our home. We checked the website in advance to ensure we could bring Sweet Pea (we could, as long as she was leashed) and headed off to see it this past Wednesday.
The interesting things about this garden are how it came to be, its astounding size, and the variety of art it holds. The information on the Bacalhôa website, says it is ‘the largest Oriental garden in all of Europe comprising around 35 hectares of land (86.5 acres).’ [Side note: Won has stated many times that he is very uncomfortable with the word “oriental.” It is considered offensive by Asians, in particular when it is used to refer to a person of Asian ethnicity. I am only using it here because that is how the company references the garden on their website.]
The Buddha Eden Garden was idealized and conceived by José “Joe” Berardo in response to the destruction of the Giant Buddhas of Bamiyan, Afghanistan in 2001 by the Taliban Government. [Who knew how freakishly timely this topic would be?! I had no idea of its origin story until I got home and researched it.] The destruction of these massive ~1400-year old works of art was considered one of the greatest acts of cultural barbarism at the time. I suppose it’s not so shocking that Berardo took this step. He is one of the leading contemporary art collectors in Portugal. His collections include art deco and Chinese porcelain and encompass more than 40,000 works (approximately 1,200 of which are by well-known modern and contemporary artists). Shortly after the destruction of the statues, Berardo acquired a massive range of Buddhist statues, set aside a portion of one of his vineyards, and established the Buddha Eden Garden, which opened in phases beginning in 2006.
Buddhas, pagodas, terracotta warrior statues (in violet, no less!) and various carefully-placed sculptures can be found throughout the gardens. It is estimated that six thousand tons of marble and granite were used to create the garden. The central staircase is the focal point, where several golden Buddhas offer you a calm, warm welcome. Here is one.
It is sometimes difficult to provide a sense of scale when I share pictures, and I often avoid having people in my images (I think they can be distracting), but in this case I’ve purposefully left some in to help you get a sense of that illusive concept of scale.
The entrance fee was 5€ per person with an option to take a cute little train around the park for an additional 4€ each. We skipped the train thinking we might not be able to take Sweet Pea, but it would have been fun! The first sight we saw when we entered the park is a massive pagoda-like structure (below).
The site is enormous and some parts are hilly, so be prepared for that if you visit. It also includes and amphitheater as well as several lakes and water features. Koi fish (Japanese carp) can be seen in all of them.
We decided to go to the right as opposed to heading straight down toward the main area with the golden buddhas and were surprised and delighted by the Modern and Contemporary Sculpture Garden we found there. These beautiful pieces are expertly integrated into and framed by their natural surroundings. Selected pieces from the Berardo Collection, such as Joana Vasconcelos, Alexander Calder, Fernando Botero, Tony Cragg, Lynn Chadwick, Allen Jones and many others, are displayed. This open-space gallery features works that are regularly replaced, providing visitors with new and interesting experiences on each visit. Here are just a few.
The modern sculpture garden seamlessly gave way to the Bamboo Labyrinth and African Sculpture Garden. Lining the walkways, and framed by bamboo, are some of the more than 200 beautiful sculptures. The garden is dedicated to the Shona people of Zimbabwe, who have carved stone by hand into works of art for more than a thousand years. The Shona people believe ancestral spirits, known as “Vadzimu,” and their sculptures represent the union of the physical and spiritual worlds. They believe each stone has a living spirit which influences what it will become. Their sculptures free the spirit from the stone.
As we exited the shade and coolness of the Bamboo Labyrinth, we popped right out into what looked, and felt like, the African savannah, which was especially realistic since it was a warm day. This part of the park is home to hundreds of metal sculptures representing the wildlife of that continent. Amazing!! Many of the sculptures were close to life-size and some were scaled to be much larger.
But even before we had the chance to see all the fabulous animal sculptures, we were delighted and amused by the whimsical dancing skeletons.
As we made our way up the hill and past the lone elephant in the distance, we entered into a Southeast Asian world. We saw massive statues with a hillside of blue plumbago in full bloom at their feet. Once again to give you a sense of scale, there is a woman in the image of the two standing goddesses (she’s bending over; it looks like she’s bowing, but I think she was just looking at her phone 🙄). There are three sitting goddesses flanking the staircase on the right of these tall statues and a matching set on the left!
As we were wrapping our heads around that impressive sight, just around the corner, there they were…hundreds of hand-painted terra cota Xian Warriors! These are replicas of the ones discovered in China. There are a total of 700 in the park. Some are located in a different area, which I’ll share in a moment.
The funniest pair of monk statues that I saw were these two. The one on the left looks like he’s got a headache because his neighbor is singing at the top of his lungs (possibly out of key).
Our visit came to a close after we took in the views of the remaining Xian Warrior statues…
…and more impressive statues that surround Pagoda Lake.
For any eagle-eyed readers who may be wondering why a buddha has a swastika symbol on their chest, in Buddhism, the swastika symbolizes the auspicious footprints of the Buddha. The left-facing sauwastika is often imprinted on the chest, feet or palms of Buddha images. It is an aniconic symbol for the Buddha in many parts of Asia and homologous with the dharma wheel.
I’m happy to report that we fulfilled our goal of finding a place that could offer some peace and tranquility. It did all that, plus so much more. Now, we are fully recharged and ready for the arrival of two of my five siblings and their spouses one week from today!!!! [I’m stopping right now to do a happy dance in my living room!] The last visitors we had came in February of 2020. Talk about a dry spell!
We will be welcoming my youngest brother, Gary and his wife Marlena, who live in Southern California on Friday the 3rd after they drop their daughter Lydia off at Boston University for the start of her freshman year (Congratulations, Lydia!!). The very next day my sister Claire and her husband Adam, who live in Northern California, arrive. It’s going to be a jam-packed, fun-filled week. We’ve all been discussing and planning this trip for months, so it’s hard to believe they will be here in just a few short days. Pinch me!
Until next time, please stay safe, stay healthy, and stay in touch.
From Portugal with love,