Saturday, 1 August 2009

A month in Portugal (1854)

[144] I went to Cintra early in the morning by omnibus, with my kind conductor of yesterday and two of his friends, all Englishmen. I should have preferred spending this day in Lisbon, as being one of the chief festivals of the year, it would have enabled me both to attend Divine Service myself, and to see something of the religious habits of the Portuguese capital; but as the omnibus only went and returned on alternate days, this was my sole opportunity of seeing Cintra, with Byron's description of which in Childe Harold, I had been familiar from early boyhood. The road from Lisbon is very good, but there is nothing particularly interesting in the country through which one passes. In the village of Bemfica we went by the residence of the Count de Farroba, which is considered the most splendid nobleman's residence in Portugal. The ground in front was very tastefully laid out with turf, flowers, and shrubs, but we could not see much of the house. We also came in view of the palace of Queluz, which stands some distance from the road, and has been a favourite residence of some of the Portuguese sovereigns. Here Dom Pedro breathed his last. As we got towards the [145] end of our journey, we passed near another royal habitation, the palace of Ramalhao; but it has been for some years unoccupied and unfurnished. The first view of Cintra, as it is entered in this direction, is wild and rugged, consisting principally of a succession of rocky peaks, rising to an immense elevation in naked barrenness. When, however, it is fairly reached, there are other features added to the scene, which quite change its character. Below these rocks, which seem to have been formed by some natural convulsion, is a mountain height covered with all kinds and degrees of verdure, sloping down into a valley of the sweetest luxuriance. 'The village itself stands half-way up,—nestled as it were in the bosom of the hill,—amidst groves of pine and cork, orange and lemon trees, with a profusion of geraniums and evergreens of all kinds.' [Diary of an Invalid, p. 15] ' It contains,' says Lord Byron, ' beauties of every description, natural and artificial. Palaces and gardens rising in the midst of rocks, cataracts, and precipices, convents and stupendous heights—a distant view of the sea and the Tagus......... It unites in itself all the wildness of the western Highlands, with the verdure of the south of France.' [Life and Works, vol. i, p.280] All this is true, and yet I must confess, the scenery of Cintra somewhat disappointed me. This perhaps arose from the extravagant ideas I had conceived of it at a very early age, which, it may be, no scenery would have been able fully to satisfy: and again, from my having beheld views and objects during my present tour, with which what I gazed on here, beautiful as it was, would [146] yet not stand a comparison. However it was well worth visiting, and I am very glad that I visited it. Perhaps the words of Mr. Southey convey as accurate a description of it as can be given—' It is,' says he, ' more beautiful than sublime, more grotesque than beautiful.' [Letters, &c., p. 510]

We arrived at the end of our journey about ten o'clock, and took up our quarters at Durand's Hotel, where we were made very comfortable, at a moderate expense. After breakfast we walked to the palace of the Marquis Marialva, said to have been the place where the Convention of Cintra was signed, though in reality it had no connexion with it, as the Convention was arranged, settled, and signed, thirty miles off. It is a large, good looking mansion, with an open space before it of some extent, much frequented on summer evenings as a promenade. We next mounted our mules and rode to Montserrat, where Mr. Beckford, ' England's wealthiest son, Once formed his paradise.' The situation is very beautiful, on the brow of an eminence projecting from the serra, and commanding in every direction views of the most lovely character. The house, however—a Grecian villa, in the construction and decoration of which, there had been no lack of either taste or expenditure—is now in ruins, ' as if a thing un-blest by man.'
' Here giant weeds a passage scarce allow To halls deserted, portals gaping wide ; Fresh lessons to the thinking bosom, how Vain are the pleasaunces on earth supplied; Swept into wrecks anon by Time's ungentle tide !'

[147] There is in fact an air of desolation about the whole scene, house and grounds together, the more remarkable and melancholy from its modern character. We are, in some degree, reconciled to Time having done his work on an ancient edifice, but to see a building, so to speak, of yesterday in ruins, is contrary to our expectations, and has in it something peculiarly saddening. We next proceeded through the valley of Collares, watered by natural streams, and abounding in orange groves and orchards, and thus affording a delightful contrast to the mountain that rises above it,—to the far-famed rock of Lisbon, the most westerly point of the European continent. This is a most remarkable spot. Some distance from the edge of the precipice, which rises perpendicularly out of the ocean to a height of about three hundred feet, we looked down a hole and could see the sea and hear its roar, which by continually chafing against the rock, had worked itself a way beneath the spot where we were standing. We advanced to the edge. The view of the ocean, bright and blue, and of the romantic coast consisting of bold projections, intermingled with sharp and lofty rocks, was truly sublime. It was almost fearful to look below; but what will the reader think, when he is told that down and up this rock ran several men and boys, (who, with a number more, had followed us from a neighbouring village,) without any support but what nature had afforded them, for the mere purpose of exhibiting their skill, and obtaining a small sum in return ? The breeze which is constantly blowing from the sea, must, I imagine, serve in some degree to keep them up; but still the slightest slip on their part, or any [148] want of firmness in the rock where they happened to tread, could hardly fail of being attended with instant destruction. It really filled us with horror to gaze upon them; and yet it would have been impossible to prevent them from thus endangering themselves. The guide of our party, my yesterday's lionizer, told us that he once accompanied two of his friends to this spot, strangers, who requested him not to permit any of the people to run this fearful risk. He accordingly told them that he had been directed by his friends to promise them two crusados, on condition that they kept away from the rock, but that if they went down, they should not have a single vintem. All however was to no purpose. Down they would go; and when they came up, because the visitors were as good as their word, they set to and pelted them. This exploit, which they are so fond of exhibiting, has apparently been handed down from generation to generation. Beckford gives a description of its performance when he was here, nearly seventy years ago. When we had reached Collares on our way back, we varied our route by returning to Cintra by the high road. We passed various mansions and quintas belonging to different members of the Portuguese nobility and gentry, into one of which we entered for the purpose of drinking of a mineral spring. The possessors of these places evidently take much delight in their gardens, and pay great attention to the raising of plants and flowers; of which the more choice ones are distinguished, as in English nurseries, by labels bearing their names. The water of Cintra is noted for its excellence and frigidity. It flows down from the mountains in numberless rills, [149] which are never known to fail even in the driest season. The climate, again, is most refreshing and delicious. Along these mountain heights, with the sea so near, there is no want of exhilarating breezes even in the most sultry time. In the summer season it must be a residence perfectly luxurious. The people of Lisbon are happy in having such a spot so near, nor is it to be wondered that they so generally avail themselves of it. Rents, too, here are very low. A palace built for one of the royal dukes was pointed out to me, which was offered to be let for twenty-five pounds a year; whilst for a family in private life, a convenient house might be procured at the rate of seven or eight pounds. I ought to have said that the road along which we passed, was as good as could be desired. It was formerly far otherwise, but had been recently repaired, and if I rightly remember, was much indebted for its improvement to the aid and influence of the Pope's Nuncio. He was spoken of as a man of much public spirit, always ready and anxious to cooperate in measures conducive to the general good. We reached our hotel between five and six o'clock, and closed the day with a sociable and pleasant dinner. We retired to rest early, and assembled again in good time on the morrow, when immediately after breakfast we bent our steps to the royal palace. This is a large irregular building, of Moorish origin, as is evident from its architecture and construction, but with many additions from successive Portuguese Sovereigns. I went over it with great interest, having never before seen a building of similar character. The windows, on the exterior, were surrounded with arabesque ornaments. [150] One of the rooms, with (I think) a marble floor, contained in its centre a circular reservoir, filled with water, around which, it was said, its first inhabitants used to luxuriate in the heat of the day. There are also fountains and jets d'eau to be met with in other parts, one of which, in a court adjoining the bath-room, is sometimes employed to besprinkle visitors unawares. All these bring to mind the founders of the palace : but it is also rich in historical reminiscences of a later date. Thus one room is pointed out, in which the unfortunate Sebastian held his last audience and the chair in which he sat, before he set out on his unhappy expedition into Africa, from which he never returned. Another, with a handsome tiled floor, part of which is worn by the footsteps of D. Affonso VI, who was here kept prisoner for the last fifteen years of his life, after he had been most deservedly compelled to abdicate the throne. Another, the roof of which is adorned with the royal arms of Portugal, the escutcheons of the sons and daughters of D. Manoel, and those of the Portuguese nobility, of which, however, two have been removed—those of the families of Aveiro and Tavora, from their having been suspected of being concerned in the attempt on the life of D. Jose in 1758. To this apartment, which is now used as a billiard-room, there is a magnificent marble door-way of Moorish architecture ; and from its windows, with the aid of a glass, we had a very good view of the palace of Mafra. Interesting, however, as this palace is, yet considered as a royal residence, it is very deficient. The bed-rooms are very small; the furniture is shabby and scanty ; even the private apartments of the late Queen though comfortable, [151] Were but little more. We were however much struck with the vast dimensions of a mahogany bed which she used to occupy. Two young English midshipmen, whose ship was lying in the Tagus, opposite Lisbon, once came to Ciutra, climbed up into the palace, threw down a cross, and danced on this bed. For this outrageous conduct they were on the point of being sent back to England, and dismissed the service; but at her Majesty's especial request, this was not carried into effect. They were however very deservedly confined to the ship, and no more allowed to come on shore, whilst the vessel remained at Lisbon. I mention this circumstance as a specimen of the Queen's forbearance and kindness of heart, which secured her the love, and alas! the regret, of all her subjects. But to proceed with the palace—The architecture of the Chapel is of a Christian character, but the walls are whitewashed, the floor is of brick, and the windows are partly blocked up. There is a tribune for the royal family on the south side, near the high altar. Before we left, we went into the kitchen, but it contained nothing remarkable except two immense chimneys, shaped like Birmingham glass-houses, which form a conspicuous feature in the building when viewed on the outside.

Having here satisfied our curiosity, we mounted our mules to climb the heights, for which Cintra is so celebrated. First, however, we stopped at the quinta of the Marquis de Vianna, access to which is kindly permitted to the public. The house is a neat looking building, and the gardens are very pretty and extensive. We here saw a swan on a small piece of water, followed by a number of gold fish, with which he appeared to be on [152] the best of terms. We next ascended to the fountain of St. Euphemia, of which we drank, and then went on to the Chapel, at the back of which is an inscription, stating that she was the daughter of a heathen king of Braga— that her mother had eight sons at one birth, all of whom were put to death by him, A. D. 125, for having embraced Christianity—that through her intercession, wounds and diseases (particularly the itch) are cured by drinking of her fountain; and that this inscription is placed over the foot-print which she left, when she last appeared on earth, A. D. 1757. If we may judge from the mark, stated to be the impress of her foot, she would appear to have been a lady of no ordinary weight and dimensions. We next proceeded to the Pena Convent, which formerly belonged to the Jeromites of Belem, and stands on one of the highest peaks of the Serra. This is the ' toppling convent' celebrated by Lord Byron, wherewith 'the horrid rocks are crowned.' It has been purchased by the King Regent, who at much expense, and with great taste and judgment, is restoring it in the Moorish style, for a private palace. It was originally founded by D. Manoel, on the spot whence he was the first to descry the fleet of Vasco da Gama, for which he had so often watched, returning from its Indian expedition. ' From this elevation,' says Southey, 'the eye stretches over a bare and melancholy country to Lisbon on the one side, and on the other to the distant Convent of Mafra, the Atlantic bounding the greater part of the prospect. I never beheld a view that so effectually checked the wish of wandering. Had I been born at Cintra, methinks no inducement could have tempted me to leave its delightful [153] springs and shades, and cross the dreary wilderness that insulates them.' [Letters, &c., p. 511.] The King, in his restoration, is preserving, as much as possible, the monastic character of the building; but I fancy the grounds below must present a somewhat different aspect from what they wore under their former proprietors. They are now laid out as tasteful and elegant gardens, wherein are cultivated the choicest fruits, the rarest and most beautiful flowers. We walked from these having ordered our mules to meet us at a spot below, along a path which leads to the ruins of a Moorish castle, on the summit of the next elevation. This was the last place in Portugal from which the Moors were driven. There is now but little of it remaining. Just below is a stone quadrangular cistern, with a vaulted roof, which is supposed to have been a Moorish bath. A spring of the purest water rises within it, and keeps it constantly full. Still farther down are the ruins of a mosque, to which however we could not obtain admission, as the woman in charge was unable to produce the key. With a view of the different ruins on this peak we brought our morning's rambles to a close, and returned to our hotel; whence, early in the evening, we started back in the omnibus for Lisbon, where we arrived after a drive of about two hours. I was glad to rejoin the companion of my tour at the Braganza, and to give him an account of what I had seen since we parted.

A month in Portugal.
Joseph Oldknow
London Longman & Co. 1855

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