After exploring the Moors Castle, we set out to the Quinta da Regaleira, an extravagant neo-gothic mansion – also a UNESCO World Heritage protected landscape. There is more to Quinta da Regaleira than its architecture. However, let us understand what is meant by Gothic and Neo Gothic in Architecture. Gothic architecture is from the later Middle Ages characterised by pointed arches, elongated vertical windows, and flying buttresses — the pillars or other supports outside the building to give its walls further lateral support and allow for greater height and larger windows. It originated in France in the 11th century and spread across Western Europe and subsequently petered out by the 17th century, when it was replaced by other styles. Neo-Gothic, also called Gothic Revival, is a resumption of the Gothic style, from the 19th century to the early 20th. It tries to imitate and idealize original Gothic architecture, or more correctly a highly romanticized version of it. The movement was in keeping with a general trend towards romanticism, as a reaction against the intervening centuries of the renaissance or enlightenment which celebrated Reason, science and logic.
The Quinta da Regaleira was constructed in 1910 by Carvalho Monteiro, an eccentric millionaire who made his wealth in Brazil exporting coffee. The property consists of a romantic palace and chapel, and a luxurious park. Carvalho was fascinated by secret cults and mysticism, and filled the densely forested grounds of his mansion with symbolic religious icons. This includes the 27m deep Initiation Well, which was used for Knights Templar or Tarot initiation rites
Below the grounds are a series of grottos (a small cave or artificial cave mostly used for religious purposes) and passages, which symbolise a hidden underworld, and there is even a cave entrance concealed behind a waterfall.
The Quinta da Regaleira – a decorative 20th century residence is a grand house, split over five floors and has an ornate Gothic façade. The real ‘spooky’ attraction is to the rear with the enchanting gardens.
First, a bit of history. The property originally belonged to Francisco Alberto Guimarães de Castro, who bought it in 1715 when the Regaleira tower was all that occupied the land. In 1800, João António Lopes Fernandes acquired the land and owned it until 1830, when it was transferred to Manuel Bernardo. A year later Ermelinda Allen Monteiro de Almeida, a wealthy Portuguese businessman bought the property and named the estate Quinta da Regaleira after she received the designation of First Viscountess of Regaleira. The estate was sold to Carvalho Monteiro, a wealthy Brazilian and heir to a successful coffee trade business who already owned land adjacent to the property.
The palace was constructed in 1904 by Carvalho Monteiro, which gave its local name ‘Palace of the Monteiro Millionaire’. The construction of the current estate commenced in 1904 and much of it was completed by 1910. On the death of Carvalho Monteiro, the house was purchased by Waldemar d’Orey. It stayed within the family until 1987, when it was bought by Aoki Corporation of Japan for private functions. Sintra local government reclaimed this monument it 1997 and opened it to the public in 1998.
After purchasing the entrance tickets, we commenced our long trek to the hill top through a walkway adorned with many stone archways. After about ten minutes of climb we reached one of the most fascinating features located in the area – a pair of wells known as the ‘Initiation Wells’ or ‘Inverted Towers’, spiraling deep down the earth.
The main 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. At the bottom of the well is a compass over a Knights Templar cross. Very little is known about how the wells were used and what exactly went on there, though it is evident that great effort went into its planning and construction.
We climbed down the stairs of the well and from the bottom of the well, we walked through a secret tunnel and arrived at the middle of the spiral staircase underground. We were now at the bottom of a smaller well, called the ‘Unfinished Well.’ It all appeared to be a mysterious place that we thought could only exist in fairy tales. Looking up we could see a patch of perfect circular sky through the well.
This well contained a set of straight staircases, connecting the ring-shaped floors to one another. The wells were never used, nor intended for water collection. Instead, these wells were used for secretive initiation rites. The wells left us bewildered about the events that must have transpired there. For a while we were transported to an ancient spiritual world of mystery and intrigue. One could literally sense restless souls moving about in the dark corners.
From the lake we walked to the Portal of the Guardians, a highly dynamic structure composed of twin towers flanking a central pavilion under which is hidden one of the underground ways to the Initiation Well through the mouth of the Cascade Lake.
Next to the entrance is the Chapel of the Holy Trinity or the Regaleira Chapel. It is a Roman Catholic Chapel that stands in front of the palace’s main façade. The interior of the chapel is richly decorated with frescoes, stained glass windows and lavish stuccoes surrounded by pentagrams. Despite its relatively small size, the chapel has several floors.
Fresco above the altar in the Chapel depicts Jesus Christ crowning the Virgin Mary. The Chapel is also adorned by scenes of the life of Jesus Christ. The crypt is linked to the Palace through a tunnel.
The first room we entered past the main portal was the octagonal Dining Room. A massive fireplace that supports a statue of a woodsman was the main attraction. The mantelpiece depicts well carved hunting scenes. Thus the room is also called the ‘Hunting Room.’
Now we entered the Kings Room, formerly the billiards room. Its ceiling is decorated with the portraits of 20 Kings and four Queens of Portugal and the Coats-of-Arms of Four Portuguese cities – Lisbon, Porto, Coimbra and Braga.
We bid goodbye to Sintra in the evening to catch the train to Lisbon.