Saturday, 7 February 2009

Cintra 1839

After a week's residence at Lisbon, the arrival of the English packet without letters for us, and the return of the Braganza from Gibraltar, we determined on making an excursion to Cintra, and accordingly set out on Sunday afternoon. The bag- gage was sent on before in a cart, the two servants in a vehicle something like a cabriolet, high, hung very forward, and extremely difficult to mount, descend from, or remain in. TiOrd L. and I followed in a cha- riot and four, which sounded very grand, and I had pro- mised myself a comfortable drive. We were informed it would require three hours to accomplish the sixteen miles. My expectations vanished on seeing our machine, which certainly was ill fitted even to contain two persons, much less make them comfortable. I know not what to compare it to ; a small, hard, ill-made, old arm-chair, covered over, pitched forward, and placed very high ; and into this we scrambled. The pavement and the jolting are, beyond all description dreadful. It was impossible to converse, the noise blunted every sense ; one could neither speak, hear, nor see ; and found plenty of employment in the vain endeavour to steady oneself, so as to resist the jolts and jerks. Half way we stopped to feed the mules, who seemed to enjoy their bread and wine extremely, and we proceeded with renewed speed. The face of the country strikes a stranger very much ; as does also the mixture of barren and waste land with the luxuriance of vegetation. The aloe hedges form a good fence, but their beauty was destroyed by the heat and drought of summer, and they looked curled up like sea weed. We passed several quintas, or villas, that seemed in a falling, ruinous state ; but it appeared to me as if very little exertion was requisite to make them once more habitable and enjoyable. As we ap- proached Cintra, the great range of craggy mountains became visible, and we could distinctly discover the convent on the top of the highest, called " II Col di Pena." We found our rooms and dinner ready in a small cottage, belonging to the same English person in whose hotel we lodged at Lisbon. I do not remember any description of Cintra, except Lord Byron's, that at all does justice to its singular beauty. The immense rocks, stones, and barren crags thrown about in wild confusion, the orange groves, the cork forests, the extent of view, the mountains that appear inaccessible, and the little retreats, to which people are glad to fly for refuge from the noise and poisonous air of liisbon, — all are grouped in beauty and harmony. " Lo ! Cintra's glorious Eden intervenes, In variegated maze of mount and glen. Ah me ! what hand can pencil guide, or pen, To follow half on which the eye dilates Through views more dazzling unto mortal ken, Than those whereof such things the bard relates, Who to the awestruck world, unlocked Elysium's gates ? The horrid crags, by toppling convent crown'd ; The cork trees hoai^hat clothe the craggy steep ; The mountain-moss, by scorching skies imbrown'd ; The sunken glen, whose sunless shrubs must weep ; The tender azure of the unruffled deep ; The orange tints that gild the greenest bough ; The torrents that from cliff to valley leap ; The vine on high, the willow branch below ; Mixed in one mighty scene, with varied beauty glow."

Next morning, the rain came down in such torrents, that I began to fear we should remain prisoners ; how- ever, after a severe contest, the sun regained his empire, the blue sky re-appeared, and the weather clearing, the donkies came to the door, and we set out on our pil- grimage to the two convents, and in the first instance to the cork one, two leagues distant. For about a mile, we followed a bad road through a lovely country, stop- ping every moment to contemplate the beautiful views. We passed an immense orangerie belonging to the Ma- rialva Palace. AVe saw the loveliest shrubs and ever- greens, and were under the shade of the most beautiful cork trees, when suddenly our guide turned off to a wild craggy moor, which we crossed ; and after much toiling, ascending, descending, and winding, arrived at the convent. It is curious, being entirely constructed in the rock, and fitted up with cork ; walls, ceilings, chairs, are all of the same material. Here St. Honorius dug liis grave ; and, as Lord Byron truly says, seems to have thought " To merit Heaven by making earth a hell." A poor, lame old Portuguese, covered with rags and dirt, was our cicerone; and as none of the party spoke his language, we were deprived of any information he might have given us. We sat on some rocks, and ate our luncheon ; the clear spring beside us afforded de- licious water, and a heavy shower having fallen while we were under shelter, we set out again to reach the Col di Pena convent. I own that Avhen I saw it at a distance, it appeared to me wholly inaccessible, perched like an eagle's nest, on the highest pinnacle of a craggy mountain overlooking the sea ; and even when, after much winding and climbing, we approached, I still doubted the powers of my donkey to carry me there, and the skill of the guide to conduct us. However, at last we reached it, and v/ere rewarded by one of the most magnificent views imaginable. We waited some time, and when we gained admit- tance, entered a chapel, where the fine altar-piece, of carved white marble, formed a strong contrast to the dirty leaden candlesticks placed before it. The walls were of green and white tiles ; the monks have long been banished ; and the building is now filled with workmen, as the King has bought it, is repairing the whole, and means to render it a delightful residence. The suite of rooms command beautiful views, and might be fitted up with the greatest luxury and comfort. In the middle of the building is a little Moorish court, paved in blue and white china, and surrounded by small open arches. We climbed up a little winding stone staircase to the prison. Here again w^e gazed on the sea, and the surrounding mountains and plains. I did not add my name to the many I saw scrawled on the wall, and we descended, re-mounted our donkies, and returned to Cintra. Tlie descent is long, but the road much better than the one from the Cork convent ; and a magnificent winding approach is in progress, making under the King's direction, who shews the best possible taste in reviving this old building, and has the additional merit of giving employment to a num- ber of people. Next day, the rain fell heavily, but we found a moment of fine weather, to go and see the Queen's Palace ; a most uncouth looking building, when contemplated from the exterior ; part of it being Moorish, and most of it any style of architecture the gazer may choose to call it. We had some trouble to gain admittance, and, after ascending a great flight of steps, waited a little time at the door, till a dirty guide presented himself to do the honours. The palace is as miserable inside as it is ugly outside. The suite of rooms occupied by the Queen, is wretched, uncomfortable, and badly furnished. Here and there, the dados and pavements being made of old china, recall the Moors, and present that peculiarity that all their works possess. At the top of the building is a billiard room, and this is really pretty and original. The room is square, or nearly so, with windows on three sides, and the arms of Portugal painted in compartments ; while the walls are entirely lined with tiles of old blue and white china, that form pictures and panels. A small bath room was arranged in a similar manner, and while we were gazing, the cicerone touched some unseen spring, and the freshest and purest water streamed forth on every side. We made a rapid escape into the little court into which this cool retreat opened, and here again the small Moorish fountain began to play. We then went to the Marialva Palace, where the con- vention of Cintra was signed, and where Lord L. had resided during the war. We found the old lady to whom it now belongs, the Marquise de Laurisal, and she kindly conducted us through the rooms, till she opened a door, and desired us to look out : we saw a most beautiful view of hill and dale ; on one side the Cintra mountains, on the other Mafra ; while magnificent groves of orange and citron trees lay at our feet. From hence we proceeded to Montserrat, a place created by Mr. Beckford, and said to have been perfectly beautiful, but now is in a sad state of decay and ruin. It is difficult to conceive how such havoc and desolation could have happened in so short a space of time.

Next day being allotted for our pilgrimage to Mafra, the packing commenced at an early hour, and at eleven o'clock, we set out ;


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