Sintra! Magical Sintra! It is a Disneyland for history buffs, not to be believed, and if you are ever in Portugal, NOT to be missed! Of all the places we have traveled during our time together, Sintra is the place we have talked about more than any other, and we remembered so much of what we saw here, 12 years ago. It was very familiar to us, even though it has been a long time.
This is Part 1 of Glorious Sintra. When we tried to load all the photos that we wanted to share with you, the site crashed several times. So, a divided day it will be.
Sintra…the city, not just a site in it….is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It has four castles/palaces, numerous estates, a beautiful Old Town, gardens, villas, and 19th century Romanticist architecture. Everywhere you turn, there is something to photograph. This first section is one of our favorite places on earth, Quinta da Regaleira, a palace built between 1904 and 1910 by a wealthy merchant named Carvalho Monteiro. He wanted a lush, bewildering place where he could include items reflecting his ideologies, and a place that was romantic. The many buildings hold symbols relating to alchemy, Masonry, the Rosicrucians, and the Knights Templar.
The actual residential palace is festooned with gargoyles, spires, pinnacles, an octagonal tower, carved stone, and “gingerbread” features around all the windows and doorways, as you can see in the first photo. But….the palace is by no means the most memorable part of the estate. It is the rest of the property that you remember most vividly. Imagination, whimsy, and imagery are everything here. Photos 2-5 are from the interior of the palace, to give you an idea of how the theme of “over-the-top” is carried out. Each ceiling was made of carved wood or decorated plaster. In the maroon-colored room, that is not wallpaper; each decoration, in rows, is glued to the wall and is three-dimensional.
But then the fun starts! Out to the gardens! Built on a hill that you can climb via wide walking paths or small winding paths through the shrubs, in the garden you come upon many items built just to be whimsical. There are many fountains, as well as small caves with standing water, which we made into a quartet photo. Likewise, there is a photo quartet of stone benches, carved from the rock itself. There is a full chapel…pretty large for one family! At most levels on the way uphill are mosaic-decorated fountains and covered sitting areas, and all over are tiny castles and towers with staircases, turrets, windows, and ways to climb and enjoy them. You are free to do anything here, climb anywhere. No place is roped off, and there are zero prohibitions!
The dark picture is a labyrinth, which winds around and uphill in complete blackness for quite some distance. When you take a wrong branch, you wind up in a dead end! It was a lot of fun, but was built out of the mountain, so it was all rock and was a bit damp inside. The first circular well you see is called the Initiation Well, and there is an entry at the top to make your way down inside, in a circle, poking your head out of all of those arches. The second well is similar, but is a little cruder. It is called the Imperfect Well, and likewise you can enter at the top and walk to the bottom, passing by all the cut-out stone “windows” and waving like crazy! They are both very imaginative. There are lots of carvings, and the entire place is just a “Wow!” experience. You can hardly believe your eyes, due to the “too-muchness.”
We will say, that when we were here in 2007, we had the grounds almost to ourselves. Word about Sintra hadn’t yet gotten out. Neither of us can remember paying an entrance fee, but we remarked that every castle and palace in Sintra should charge something, or a little more than they do, so that the fee can be used as a preservation fee. This time, we had to wait in the ticket line for about 30 minutes! We were amazed at all the buses, cars, and people. After all, this is shoulder season, not the middle of summer. There is an outdoor cafe for lunch and coffee, and it was filled with visitors. It is in the mid-70s here, so a beautiful day for exploring the Quinta Palace. Part 2 of Sintra is yet to come!