Monday, 6 July 2009

Fair Lusitania : Castello da Peña


Lady Jackson
Jackson, Catherine Hannah Charlotte Elliott, lady, d. 1891
London, R. Bentley and Son

Chapter XIV


We had finished our breakfast of coffee, pão Hespanhol, fresh Cintra butter, strawberries, peaches, and figs, before the burrinhos had yet made their appearance. They had been ordered on our way, before entering the “Hospedaria Lawrence;" but the man who owned them of course concealed the fact that the animals were then in the market-place, and
had been employed since the early morning in carrying market produce to and fro. He, however, informed us of it as an excuse for the delay, forgetting that he had exacted much more than he was entitled to, on account of the greater extent than was usual, as he hinted, of the excursion we then proposed to make. But the donkeys were more honest than their owner. Evidently they had an inkling of what was before them, and not being disposed to carry us up to the Peña, they absolutely declined to be mounted. We dismissed them, but it cost them a flogging, poor brutes. Being provided with fresh ones, we set off on our expedition, at a trot.

Why one should be obliged to go jolting up the hill on donkeys I cannot conceive. The road is much [178] improved since I last climbed it, and is so good — for, though winding, the ascent is very gradual — that pony-carriages or donkey-chaises might be used. I very soon dismounted, and walked more than half the way up, using the donkey only at the steepest parts ; for the wretched old seat that did duty as a saddle could not be kept in its place, and I was obliged, therefore, to be ever on the qui vive to avoid getting an awkward

We were soon overtaken by a party of ten or twelve Spanish ladies and gentlemen, and exchanged vivas with them. Two of their number followed my example of walking, and were, they said, relieved by it. Truly, we had in some parts of the road a good depth of sand
to wade through ; still it was less fatiguing than jolting up the whole distance on donkey-back. We were more at liberty, too, to look about us than when engaged in checking the meanderings of our beasts, or urging them forward when it was their good pleasure to
stand still.

Some parts of the ascent are thickly shaded by lofty forest trees, and at intervals there are grottoes, and fountains with large drinking-troughs, and seats where weary pilgrims may rest a while under the waving branches of the graceful pepper-trees, and be not only
thankful but happy ; for, Cintra,

" Quem descançado a fresca sombra tua
Sonhou senão venturas ? "

Almeida Garret.

" Who, Cintra, e'er rested beneath thy shady bowers
Ajid dreamt of aught but happiness ? "

[179] On the right are the lofty and jagged mountain peaks; beneath them, that wondrous melange of massive grey stones, clusters of pines, hanging shrubs, sparkling waterfalls, and luxuriant vegetation, through which is traced the castellated wall leading to the Castello de Mouros. On the left, a vast stretch of undulating ground lies below, fertilized by many a
streamlet that has foamed down the mountain's side, and covered with a succession of gardens and orange groves — forming a picture less wildly romantic than the first, yet not yielding to it in poetic beauty.

A party of English lately from Cintra excused their want of admiration of its beauties by saying they were familiar with the scenery of the Isle of Wight. Doubtless the scenery of the little island is, in certain parts, bold and beautiful ; but it bears no resemblance to that of Cintra, whose rocky heights are far loftier and grander, and its vegetation far richer
and more varied. You might with as much propriety compare the view of London from Greenwich Park with that of Lisbon from Almada — as it has been compared by an extremely British John Bull, giving, of course, the preference to the Greenwich view. Pro-
bably both views are finer now than when the invidious comparison was made, for I read it in an old book of travels of 1816 or 1817.

Some persons, too, contend that Cintra owes to the enthusiasm of Byron and other modern poets its 'prestige for beauty. But it is more probable that it owes it to its beauty alone. Before Byron wrote, both Lisbon and Cintra were better known and more fre- [180] quently visited by the English than they are now, except perhaps by mercantile people; for it was then customary for consumptive persons to seek relief from their malady by wintering in Lisbon, and few probably extended their visit far enough into the spring without spending some time at Cintra. I have some letters written by a lady who was here with her daughters in 1791. She says : " While staying at this enchanting spot I have read Milton's ‘Paradise Lost,’ and have been much struck by his description of Paradise, from its resemblance to this place. It is, in fact, a description of Ointra, and the only one I ever read that at all does it justice." And in many respects this is true; for of Cintra it might truly be said —

" And overhead upgrew
Insuperable height of loftiest shade,
Cedar, and pine, and fir, and branching palm,
A sylvan scene ; and as the ranks ascend
Shade above shade, a woody theatre
Of stateliest view."

This and much more that follows may apply to Cintra ; but in the description of Eden there enters not that of the bold crags and cliffs of a rocky coast, and the view, so grand and sublime, of the boundless ocean.

Many pens have attempted to describe Cintra — I know of none but Beckford's that has succeeded in making its beauty felt; and he does not so much attempt to describe the place, as the effect of its spell-like loveliness on his sensitive and poetic temperament. He wrote of it between 1788 and 1794, and I can imagine that Cintra was even more lovely then than [181] now — at least it was more out of the reach of pleasure-seeking invaders. There were neither races nor bullfights, but probably there were fairies and wood-nymphs, or you might fancy so; for it is just that sort of enchanted and enchanting region where, if
anywhere, the existence of such beings may be believed in. The glowworms and fireflies that perhaps lighted the fairy revels still linger here. You may see them in the summer evenings, and as you saunter along the " Passeio dos Amores" — the Lovers' Walk — or
other shady grove. But not sauntering alone ; for the beauties of nature seem more beautiful still when a companion of sympathetic tastes shares with you in your delight in and admiration of them. There, as you listen to the warbling of the nightingales, while the moonbeams are peeping through the foliage, and the softest of zephyrs are stealing through it laden with the odours of the orange, the jasmine, and myrtle-blossoms, mingled with the perfume of roses and lavender and heliotrope and all other sweet things, you may
fancy, as you breathe this balmy atmosphere, that seems too pure, too ethereal for earth, that you have at least reached the threshold of Paradise.

At last we have climbed the hill, and without much fatigue, considering that we are a thousand mètres above the level of the sea. We enter a fine broad avenue, a vast leafy bower formed by the stately forest trees that unite their long branches overhead, and a few
paces bring us to the castellated Palace of the Rock — the Castello da Peña — the mountain home of the rei artista, Dom Pernando. [182] For a time we kept up with the Spanish party,
and had some snatches of conversation with two or three of them ; for Spaniards and Portuguese often converse together with perfect facility, each in his own language, yet each, in the pride of his distinct nationality, professing ignorance of the language of the other. These people were hoth lively and courteous. They suggested that we should make but one company of pilgrims ; for which suggestion, without acceding to it, we thanked them in the usual high-flown, complimentary, conventional style. Gradually we lagged behind, for we expected a member of the king's household to admit us to parts of the castle usually closed
to visitors when Dom Pernando is residing at Cintra. Just at this moment, also, a very wary eye is kept on all Spaniards visiting the palaces, churches, and public institutions; for the number of fires that occur every night in Lisbon rather increases than diminishes, and
as the cause of them is rarely discovered, they are attributed to the concealed emissaries of the Spanish revolutionists ; consequently the attendants at the public buildings have strict orders, as one of them informed me, never to leave a party of those “malditos
Hespanhoes” — cursed Spaniards — for one moment alone.

A drawbridge leads to the principal entrance of the castle. On the gates are the arms of Portugal and Saxony, and surmounting them is the figure of an armed knight with spear and shield, the latter bearing the arms of the Baron Echwege, under whose direction the engineering works pro- [183] jected here by the king, Dom Eernando, have been
carried out.

It is usual on entering the grounds to take a guide, to lead you through all the windings and turnings of this charming labyrinth of shrubberies and gardens. The donkeys are taken by their drivers to the other side of the castle, by a pathway cut round the mountain ; and on leaving the grounds by that side you find your monture waiting for you outside the gates. Two or three men presented themselves as guides, naming a large fee for their services, and protesting it was very little before even they were questioned about it. But there was a youthful guide among them, a tall, slim lad of about fourteen, in a dark blue woollen dress and red belt. He was barefooted, and stood apart silently and modestly, with his long red woollen cap in his hand, waiting the result of what must have seemed to lookers-on very like a quarrel between his older and rougher companions. But they were merely vehemently supporting each other's pretensions, and so that one of their number was engaged on his own terms they would have been well enough contented; for they share their gains, I believe, and are privileged to get as much as they can from visitors. I liked the
appearance of the boy guide. His dark, soft, gazelle eyes, intelligent face, and quiet manner formed a pleasant contrast to the noisy, raving men, and their “much ado about nothing.” My choice fell upon him as our conductor. The men shrugged their shoulders, and seemed to imply that he was an ignoramus. I thought him picturesque and sympathico. “O ! sim, [184] senhora, sim” he answered, when I inquired if he knew well all the ins and outs of the grounds. That was enough ; the stories and legends of the castle were already known to us — and besides, it is not always pleasant to be too much guided.

“And what shall we pay you ? “ I asked. " Whatever the senhora pleases," he almost whispered, glancing timidly at the men. But they heard him, and up went their shoulders again. This time it was in contemptuous pity for the poor young guide, whose simplicity
they, of course, thought we should take advantage of to the extent of a vintem or two.

It is scarcely possible, at least for my pen, to give an adequate idea of the varied beauty of the pleasure grounds of the Castello da Pena. Every rise and fall of the mountain summit has been turned to account, and the grandest views are obtained from different points — the plains and fertile valleys stretching for miles away ; the mountains of Alemtejo and Estramadura ; the Estrella, and other buildings on the heights of Lisbon ; and, most sublime of all, the bold cliffs and crags of the Cintra range, and, beyond them, the broad, boundless expanse of the Atlantic.

What glorious sunsets may be seen here ! There is nothing to interrupt the view, for the towers and turrets of this aerial abode rise high above the peaks of the mountain, and when the gloom of approaching night has overspread the valleys of Cintra, they still are tinged with the lingering golden gleams of the setting sun.

There are plots of verdure, green as the green hills [185] of Kent, and hedgerows of geraniums — a mass of pink, white, and violet blossoms — of itself a beautiful sight.
The gardens are most tastefully laid out, and kept in perfect order. North and south ; the torrid, frigid, and temperate zones, seem to have contributed their choicest flowers, shrubs, and trees for their adornment ; and when transplanted to this favoured spot they attain to a size and beauty unknown in their native soil.

Broad walks are cut in the soft parts of the rock, and little rills flow along the side of pathways densely shaded by the intertwined boughs of spreading trees, forming long cloistered avenues of foliage, impervious to the sun's fiercest rays, and pleasantly cool in the hottest season. Where the rills swell into rivulets they are crossed by pretty rustic bridges, or some graceful fountain is supplied by them. There are kiosques, pavilions, aviaries, and summer-houses, and seats placed to command some beautiful sea view or
landscape, or to afford shelter from the glare of sunlight while you rest beneath an archway of leaves and flowers.

As we passed along the winding path down to the greenhouse and the flower-beds called the Jardim de Madama — Madama being the Condessa d'Edla, the wife of Dom Fernando — a snake lay coiled up close to the edge of a small pooL Our guide sought for a stone to throw at it, but as soon as the creature espied us it darted into the water. It was full three feet in length, and finely mottled, but whether venomous or not I cannot say. It was not a familiar sight to the [186] boy, who was anxious to wait and watch lor its re-
appearance that we might endeavour to kill it. However, this was not sport to my fancy, so we wandered on, admiring by the way the tufts of flowers, so artistically scattered amongst mossy grey stones and projections of rock that they seem carelessly flung there by
the hand of nature.

Many bushes of white and tinted camellias flourish in these gardens, and other plants so rare in these latitudes that the specimens found here are the only known ones either in Portugal or Spain. The collection of greenhouse exotics is of surpassing beauty. The gardener who showed them, and who seemed to take great pride in them, was so much delighted with my reiterated “Bellissima ! bellissima!” that he gave me the history of several of his floral treasures, and promised me full particulars of his method of treating others when he should have, as he said, “ o mui grande prazer ” of seeing the senhora again. But I fear all
his horticultural erudition was thrown away upon me, for when I left his glass palace I remembered only the exquisite loveliness of his flowers.

Perhaps I need scarcely tell you that the magnificent Norman-Gothic castle, perched, as if by magic, on these lofty peaks, is partly constructed from the ruins of the old convent founded in 1503 by Dom Manoel, for the Jeronymite monks, and dedicated to
Nossa Senhora da Peiia — Our Lady of the Rock. While my companion, accompanied by the boy guide, went in quest of the cicerone who was to show us some part of the castle, I sat down on a stone tablet, under [187] the windows of one of the private apartments, and
heside some steps leading to an open door, over which was a projection of stone, carved in the most fanciful and capricious designs. Presently, I heard voices in conversation ; then snatches of song to a piano accompaniment. After a little of this preluding, a female
voice, of no great power, but sweet and thrilling and evidently well cultivated, sang an air of a somewhat tender, melancholy cast. On that spot, where all around was so Avell calculated to excite the imagination, the voice of the unseen songstress seemed to me as that of some enchanted or spell-hound inmate of the magic palace. Elowers bloomed at my side, and
before me a creeping plant, trained on plaited twigs or trellice-work, formed a wall of leaves. There were towers and turrets in sight, and a very monastic-looking archway — the sort of surroundings to induce a pleasant dreamy state of mind, and to favour indulgence in it for a brief moment. Suddenly the singing ceased. I heard it no more; and saw no one
until the return of my companions, when I learned that I had been listening to the singing and playing of the Condessa d'Edla and Dom Eernando, and that they had probably left the castle by some other door, as they were going down to the lakes to fish.

When the monastery was purchased by Dom Fernando from the person into whose possession it had come after the secularization of religious houses in Portugal, it was fast falling to ruin. But such portions of it as remained in a fair state of preservation or could
be repaired — such as parts of the outer wall and the [188] turrets — were retained and turned to account in the plan sketched out for the rebuilding and remodelling of the edifice. The high tower — from which, it is said, Dom Manoel used to watch for the return of the fleet of Vasco da Gama from the exploring expedition to India — had fallen in, and has been rebuilt; and there have been added square turrets and cupolas, castellated
walls, courts, and arched passages, a drawbridge and fosses.

The carvings which adorn every archway and entrance, every projecting window, and framework of the doors, both within and without, are most elaborate, elegant, and full of inventive fancy. The style of the furniture corresponds with that of the architecture.
The principal dining-room is of large size ; the centre is supported by pillars, and contains a large horse-shoe dining-table.

The castle terrace commands a prospect of great extent, but it is not so pleasing as the view from some other parts, the country being less fertile in that direction and very slightly undulated. It reminded me of the view from the terrace-walk at Saint Germain, which,
I think, is celebrated more for its extent than for beauty or diversity in the landscape.

Trom the terrace, a lofty flight of steps leads to the church and cloister, which are those of the old convent, and remain in their original state. They are small, but exceedingly interesting. We were urged to examine closely the beautiful sacrario of the high altar, and were led, or rather pulled, in between it and the altar table. I thought it an irreverent, if not a sacrilegious act. [189] However, it was a Roman Catholic's, not a Protestant's suggestion that led to it.

The sacrario is of transparent alabaster, beautifully sculptured in basso relievo. The subject is the Passion of our Saviour. It is designed with so much skill, and the workmanship is so delicate and highly finished, that, of its kind, this altar-piece is considered unequalled in the kingdom. It is supported by long garlands of flowers, carved from the same precious alabaster, and gracefully festooned on pillars of black porphyry. I was told that when a lamp is placed in it the effect is beautiful, and that sufficient light is emitted for the priest officiating at the altar to read by. It was made in Italy for Dom Joao the Third, the son
of Dom Manoel, and presented by him to the Peña convent in 1529. It is extraordinary that the French, who despoiled the convent of everything worth carrying away, did not contrive to remove this beautiful work of art.

There is a small painted window in the church, said to be of the same date. It represents Vasco da Gama on his knees before Dom Manoel, who holds before him, as if for his admiration, what looks something like a bird-cage, but is meant for a model of the Torre de
Belem. In the cloister is another small painted window, and two or three curious ancient pictures. The church and cloister now form the private chapel of the castle.

Returning to the terrace, I noticed the little Swiss farm in the plain below. It is called “the Chalet de Madama,” and is something in the style of the chalet [190] of the Petit Trianon. From the terrace we went down to the lakes. They are picturesquely pretty. Here and there on their banks are large drooping willows and immense bushes of fuchsia, planted close to the water's edge, and leaning forward with their bunches of pendent flowers lying on the surface of the lake. Here we again fell in with the Spanish party, whom we had not met with in our rambles through the pleasure grounds. They were waiting to see Dom
Fernando and his Condessa, who had not yet made their appearance ; but the little skiff, with the fishing tackle and all needful appurtenances, and the boatmen in charge, were in readiness for them.

We did not wait for the embarkation of the fishing party, but after strolling through some prettily laid out garden ground near the lakes, we took leave of our boy guide — he, I believe, as well satisfied with us as we had been with him — and, passing through some large iron gates, went on to the Castello de Mouros. It is on a lower eminence, not far from the Pena. There is but little to see there except the cistern, or vaulted Moorish bath, which I am told is forty-five feet in length and sixteen in breadth. The water that flows into it is
beautifully clear, and remains always at the same level. The outer wall of this castle has been repaired by the king, Dom Fernando, within whose princely domain it falls — a more enviable possession than that offered to him in the tottering throne of Spain. Various
animals, among them the stag, the gracefully -bounding gazelle, the horse, and the ox, enjoy themselves here in full liberty. There are also peacocks, a pair of small [191] ostriclies, swans, and gay-plumaged ducks. The ancient mosque still remains. Excavations, in connexion with the works then in progress, were made in it a few years ago, when several skeletons were found. Their bones were collected and buried beneath a half-moon shaped
stone, with a cross and a crescent as emblems, and the inscription, “ O que ficou junto, Deus separará,” to denote that it was unknown whether the bones there buried were those of Christians or Mohammedans. The stones are defaced by the scratchings and scrawlings of
such persons as have a mania for disfiguring places and objects they are permitted to see by placing their initials or names on them, and by inscribing sentences, pious or sublime, for the edification of less gifted individuals. It is to be hoped that the latter, at least, of
whatever nation, may see so eloquent " a sermon in," or on, "these stones," that they may be taught by it to abstain from the sin of using pencil or knife in further defacement of them.

There is a narrow pathway by which, if traversed on foot, you may, by a cross cut, get down from the Castello de Mouros to the town in a very short time. This path we proposed to descend, instead of then going on to the Pena Verde; for I had been thrown
once on the road by the abominable donkey, aided by the abominable saddle, and was resolved not to mount the brute again, at least for that day. The donkey-driver chose to look on this arrangement as a great affront to him and his donkeys. He entreated, he
expostulated ; said I was "very little damaged" — which
was very near the truth, for I was not damaged at [192] all; but his eloquence was not so persuasive as to induce me to take a long round for the sake of soothing his wounded feelings. And so we then and there parted company ; he in great dudgeon, and we much

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