Quinta da Regaleira-the most mystical and romantic place in Europe. Photo, video
The well known Portuguese millionaire philanthropist Carvalho Monteiro, bought a Sintra estate and turned it into a Garden of Eden, a paradise with a palace of philosophy at its center.The mysterious multi-tiered park around the estate is considered one of the most mysterious, mystical and romantic places in Europe Quinta da Regaleira is a Portuguese landmark that has been included in the UNESCO World Heritage List along with other sites and the surrounding landscape of Sintra
. A quiet, shady street near the center of the town. An otherwise unusual but typical Sintra house with a facade adorned with Arabic script. Opposite it is a high, blank fence. Nothing remarkable. But behind this fence is a manor house that still keeps its secret.
We enter. Behind the fence, the terraced park rises up the mountainside. Among its lush vegetation, a little away, on a hill, white towers and spires of the palace. Except for us journalists in the park, it seems, not a soul.
Ana, a female guide, greets us: her high cheekbones and slightly slanted eyes betray her Chinese roots, most likely from Macau.
She lingers at the entrance and picks up a piece of equipment that looks like a blowtorch or a garden sprayer. It looks especially strange, and even a little old-fashioned, next to the “cell phone” hanging from her belt.
The estate, called Quinta da Regaleira, traces its history back to the end of the 17th century. It was purchased in 1840 by the daughter of a wealthy merchant from Porto, who later received the title of Baroness Regaleira, changing owners several times. This is how the estate got its present name.
But the current appearance of the estate began to acquire only at the very end of the XIX century, when the barons sold it to Dr. Antonio Auguste Carvalho Monteiro. Known by the nickname Monteiro the Millionaire, he was born in the middle of the last century in Rio de Janeiro.
Heir to a colossal family fortune, multiplied in Brazil by the monopoly of the coffee and gem trade, he earned a law degree at the University of Coimbra and was undoubtedly a cultured and very educated man.
He was known as a great connoisseur of opera and a collector of musical instruments, clocks, shells and various antiquities. And his library was considered one of the best in Portugal and the most complete collection of the works of Luis Camões. Today it is housed as a separate collection in the Library of Congress of the United States.
And so this “millionaire” decided to embark on a plan in which not only was there a scope based on enormous capital, but also embodied the surprising and sometimes even inexplicable predilections of the new owner of Regaleira. It was to be a palace of philosophy, a philosophy espoused by Carvalho Monteiro.
Sintra was the perfect setting for his plan. Firstly, many members of the nobility lived there, including the royal family, who could be invited to visit their estate.
Secondly, only Sintra’s natural surroundings would have allowed for the romantic tiered park, which we were led through on our way to the palace by our guide.
Having rejected the project of a French architect, Carvalho Monteiro chose the Italian architect, painter and stage designer Luigi Manini, who had worked at La Scala in Milan.
Not only did he appreciate the nature and landscape of Sintra, but he also seemed to share Carvalho Monteiro’s philosophical and aesthetic tastes, creating an ensemble in which art and mystery intertwined.
The palace is truly beautiful – the white stone, darkened by time and moisture, looks especially romantic against the bright tropical greenery. Unlike many other Sintra mansions, the Monteiro Millionição Palace is mostly purely Portuguese.
Manini clearly studied the Manueline features well, which included an abundance of stone carvings, images of plants, and small twisted columns. But he supplemented it with sculptures of animals and anthropomorphic creatures, including figures of fantastic monsters resembling giant rabbits, placing them on the roof of the palace.
The palace’s interiors are no less luxurious than its exterior. True, there is a certain emptiness everywhere: unfortunately, little has survived of the once rich furnishings and collections of the Monteiro Millionaire.
But even what remains or has been collected from the relatives of Carvalho Monteiro in recent years speaks, like the external decoration of the palace and the park, about the tastes and preferences of the master of Regaleira.
He was clearly a conservative and monarchist. In the Royal Hall of the palace hangs a gallery of portraits of Portuguese monarchs. Carvalho Monteiro’s library is said to have contained many books that testify to its owner’s interest in Sebastianism, the Portuguese messianic cult associated with the figure of King Sebastian, who perished in the sands of North Africa in 1578.
It is believed that he did not perish, but will one day return, bringing prosperity and glory to the country once again. The proximity of the homestead to the palace of Pena was not accidental either. Its builder, King Fernando, was a great friend of his father, Carvalho Monteiro. And after the revolution in 1910, Monteiro the Millionaire even kept the royal throne, probably hoping for the return of the monarchy.
After leaving the palace, we follow our guide on a journey through the terraces of the park. It is a journey because each stop is a discovery, each stage has its own logic, sequence and, like a good play, its own dramaturgy.
Regaleira Park was conceived as Eden, the Garden of Eden. And the balconies, belvederes, gazebos, grottos, sculptures, and tiny lakes scattered throughout it on different levels all have their own meaning.
Even the exotic plants are assembled here with a certain intention: imported from Brazil, they include almost all the species Camões mentions.
From the Egyptian house with its mosaic depiction of the sacred ibis, symbolizing ancient cults, we move on to the ancient characters.
At the entrance to one of the grottoes, sculptures of Leda holding a dove in her hand and Zeus on the edge of a tiny lake in the form of a swan, pinching her leg, seem to embody the pagan vision of the Immaculate Conception.
In addition to ancient myths, Carvalho Monteiro was also a connoisseur of poetry, and not only of Camões. The passage from one terrace of the park to another is akin to the circles in The Divine Comedy: hell, purgatory, heaven. Here is a grotto with a stone bench. It is adorned with a statue of Beatrice, and on the edges of the bench, on which the number “515” is carved, sit two hounds.
“Five hundred and fifteen, messenger of God. ” is from the last song of Purgatory. And the hound is a symbol of the messenger of God, who announces the coming of the Holy Spirit and the salvation of Christianity.
But at the same time, Dante’s connoisseurs say that “515,” the enigmatic designation of the coming deliverer of the church, has another meaning: if you rearrange the signs in DXV, you get DVX, which means “leader.” It was to such complex symbols, using Kabbalistics, that the alchemists actively resorted to. And to understand everything in Regaleira, one has to be well versed in philosophy, mythology, poetry and Portuguese history, which, not without the help of scenographer Manini, is also given a theatricality.
But even if you don’t know all the hidden meanings of the mysterious symbols, you still involuntarily realize that nothing has appeared here by chance or for purely aesthetic reasons, but everything is built in a kind of dependence.
The park really has its own dramaturgy. As I move through the circles of hell and purgatory toward paradise, I feel some vague tension being transmitted to me, forcing me to put aside all extraneous thoughts and concentrate.
There’s a pond at the side of the mountain, into which water runs off the rocks. Flat stones were thrown in its middle; by stepping on them one can get to the entrance to the grotto, hidden by the bend of the slope and water falling down from above. But it is not that simple – the stones are put in such a way that just knowing on which foot to start walking on them, you can get to the entrance.
– Here, in the underground grotto, nesting bats. It’s their mating season, and it’s best not to disturb them,” Ana says. – We’ll get to the underground a little later.
On one of the terraces is a chapel, also a Neo-Manueline creation. Inside, everything is elegant and generally similar to other Portuguese chapels. Only the cross of the Knights Templar, which fell into oblivion centuries ago, breaks this resemblance. Sintra. Well of Initiation To the right of the entrance is an inconspicuous passage to a secret spiral staircase: had our guide not turned there, we would have passed by.
We descend into the crypt. Unlike the upper chapel, it is very ascetic, nothing like all the lace in stone we saw a moment ago.
– This encapsulates the dualism of Regaleira,” explains Ana. – Everything here is built on the unity of opposites: heaven is the underworld, hell is heaven, this world is the world beyond.
On the wall of the crypt I notice the sign “delta luminoso” – “shining triangle”, a symbol of Freemasonry.
And then I remember that on the ceiling of one of the rooms on the second floor of the palace we were shown an allegorical painting depicting the three Masonic virtues – Strength, Wisdom and Beauty.
If you recall, alchemy, Freemasonry, and the rites of the Templar Order were all built on sacraments and symbols. It is believed that early Freemasonry borrowed a lot from the Templars.
And their order, forbidden in all countries, in Portugal was practically simply renamed the Order of Christ, and it was under its aegis that the famous Portuguese discoveries were made, which gave rise to the very imperial spirit and messianism of sebastianism, which apparently was shared by the owner of Regaleira.
Finally, we reach the topmost terrace. The path leads to the upright stones, menhirs. We look into the passageway between the blocks.
– Come in,” says Ana.
Where to? In front of us is a monolithic wall.
The girl touches the stone, and suddenly the block begins to move, turns, opening a passage inside. Into the “other world,” the “underworld,” the “otherworld” that neighbors Carvalho Monteiro’s Garden of Eden.
A few steps and we find ourselves on the top tier of a thirty-meter well that goes into the depths of the mountain. It resembles a tower turned upside down and inside out.
The spiral gallery running around it has nine levels supported by carved stone columns. In each span are fifteen steps. These nine levels, which either take you to heaven or, conversely, lead you down into the underworld, symbolize the nine circles of hell, the nine circles of purgatory and the nine circles of paradise described by Dante.
It is the same dualism: heaven is the underworld, heaven is hell, and in between is the path of initiation. The huge Templar cross inscribed in the eight-pointed star at the bottom of the well, the emblem of Carvalho Monteiro, also confirms the significance of all these symbols. This is the Well of Initiation, the most mysterious of all the curiosities of Regaleira.
Slowly we descend down. The columns and walls are covered with green moss and lichen from the moisture. The circle of sky overhead is getting smaller and smaller, and the Templar cross is getting closer. But on one level, the girl stops and turns aside, and we follow her into an underground cave. All conversations and inquiries – and there are a lot of things to ask – stop at once.
It was only then that I understood the purpose of the strange object Ana was holding in her hand. It was a gas lamp.
Of course, you could use an ordinary electric flashlight, but the light of such a lamp, a little hissing in the silence, created a completely different atmosphere – the same mysteriousness and mystery. There were no monsters or terrors or even bats in the cave, but I wanted to see the light as soon as possible, to get out of this otherworldly world into the real world.
No one knows when the well was built. There is no record of it in any of the papers left by Carvalho Monteiro.
Perhaps it existed during the previous owners of Regaleira. That’s why a millionaire philosopher with a penchant for mysticism was so attracted to the estate. Who, why, and when did he do all this titanic work?
Who did Carvalho Monteiro bring with him to this well, the entrances to which he had so concealed and protected? What rites and rituals were performed in it, what mysteries unfolded?
Or did he descend into it alone, and so what was the power of the belief and faith of the master of Regaleira in all these mystical symbols to make one dig into the bowels of the rock. Or did this well have some other purpose, unknown to anyone now?
One thing is clear: if it were not for Monteiro Millionaire’s penchant for philosophy and mysticism, Regaleira would hardly have become that wondrous world of signs and symbols, roads of initiation.
Whether Carvalho Monteiro was a Freemason or a member of some secret order is unknown: no documents have yet been found to prove it. And it is unlikely that it will ever be known for sure. Freemasons knew how to keep their secrets.
It is true that in his library there are quite a few works devoted to Freemasonry. It is also known that King Fernando was a Mason: he even nominated himself, though unsuccessfully, for the post of Grand Master of the Masonic Lodge “Grande Oriente Lusitana Unida”.
And the very position of Regaleira is mixed with mysticism – after all, the ridge of Sintra has been the home of ancient cults since the dawn of time. And when Carvalho Monteiro built his palace here, he clearly knew it.
But what the millionaire philosopher and polymath could hardly have foreseen was that after his death in 1920, his dissolute son Pedro would squander his fortune and the estate would be auctioned off.
In the end, in 1987 Regaleira was taken over by a Japanese firm that was going to turn it into a hotel.
But the Sintra authorities bought Regaleira in 1997 to make it a museum. And yet, despite its inclusion as a UNESCO World Heritage Site back in 1995, the manor remains a quiet and undisturbed place.
José Migliazes, who brought us here, discovered this secret world of symbols and signs by chance. Mysticism, Freemasonry, alchemy and Kabbalism are matters that still don’t like to be talked about out loud. A veil of mystery still hangs over the Carvalho Monteiro estate.
Different paths can be walked through the park of this palace of philosophy: from heaven to the underworld, from hell to paradise, from paganism to Christianity. But the entire complex itself is like part of a cycle.
From ancient pagan cults that once flourished here, through Moorish Islam and early Christianity of the Templars, to the mysticism of Carvalho Monteiro, which here again connects with the ancient cult of the moon. And only she, Luna, the mistress of these places, perhaps knows of its mystery, occasionally peering into the well of the Regaleira estate.
The mysterious and romantic Quinta da Regaleira
In hot Portugal, not far from the town of Sinta, there is an unusual, almost mystical place – the Quinta da Regaleira castle complex, shrouded in an aura of mystery. Built in the architectural traditions of Neo-Gothic and Manuelino, it conceals many puzzles and curious secrets and breathes romance of old mossy walls and arches framed by lush vegetation. The old park has a well-preserved chapel, picturesque grottoes, fountains and lakes. All together create the full impression of immersion in a fantasy world. The intricate Masonic symbols, the intricate system of underground corridors and mysterious grottoes, the amazing well of the Dedication – the unfathomable wonders of the estate draw thousands of fascinated tourists traveling in Portugal to these walls.
History of the mysterious manor house
The first written mention of the estate dates back to the 17th century when it was owned by José Leite, who left no trace in history. Over the years, this land has changed a number of owners, one of whom, Baroness da Regaleira, gave the estate her name. Until 1892, the estate did not stand out in a series of houses of noble Portuguese families, until it was bought by the eccentric Brazilian millionaire A.A. Carvalho Monteiro, nicknamed “Millionaire”, who became rich in his homeland and moved to Portugal. A well-educated man of his time, a philosopher and collector immensely in love with books, Monteiro amassed an outstanding library on his estate, and embodied his entire complex system of worldview in the architectural appearance and landscape of the estate.
The transformation of the estate began in 1904, for which purpose the owner invited the Italian master Luigi Manini, who later designed Monteiro’s no less mysterious tomb, decorated in the tradition of a Masonic temple. Construction of the manor and park was completed by 1912, Carvalho Monteiro was destined to live in his ideal palace for only eight years. After his death, the estate changed hands several times and was bought by Sintra City Hall in 1997. Today Quinta da Regaleira is a fascinating state museum and part of the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage.
A walk through the paths of the park brings to life the pages of Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy. This was Monteiro’s idea – he saw in his park the earthly embodiment of the divine garden, and the estate was meant to be a kind of temple to the philosophy of the elect. The tunnels, terraces and grottoes of the park complex breathe the mysterious symbolism of Freemasonry, secret societies, alchemy and ancient religious beliefs. Quinta da Regaleira Park consists of several tiers: the upper one is a lush unimproved forest, with paths leading to the lower, largely man-made part of the landscape complex. Here, in the lower tier, visitors encounter picturesque lakes and canals alongside charming carved pavilions and belvederes, fanciful sculptural groups, and towering tower peaks.
Journey through the corners of the palace garden leads to the terrace of the gods, where a strict line meets the visitor to the ancient Greek pantheon, Ibis pavilion refers us to the mythology of ancient Egypt, symbolizing the wisdom and desire for knowledge. Everything in this garden is not random. Each tower, sculpture and belvedere is filled with a secret meaning that is still impossible to unravel to this day.
The Well of Initiation and Dante’s Circles
Lost in the labyrinths of the garden, an inconspicuous passage leads into the depths of a thirty-meter deep well that runs down into the bowels of the rock. This is the famous Well of Dedication. Leading down a spiral gallery contains nine levels, symbolizing the circles of hell Dante. Each level has fifteen steps. At the bottom of the well is an eight-pointed star, the emblem of Monteneiro, which encases an imposing cross of the Templars. On the walls you can see the symbol of the Masonic fraternity – a huge triangle. From the depths of the well go several underground corridors running to the opposite parts of the park complex – to the chapel, a small lake with a waterfall, numerous terraces and grottoes. Some galleries are illuminated, others are immersed in total darkness. The string of tunnels symbolically reflects the journey between darkness and light, death and resurrection.
The time of the appearance of the well and the system of underground passages is still a mystery. It is believed that they appeared long before the appearance of the Monteneiro estate.
The purpose of the construction of the mystical structure is also shrouded in mystery – local beliefs attribute the well to Masonic rituals and initiation ceremonies.
However, no documentary evidence confirming this version has been found.
The halls and galleries of the palace of da Regaleira
The sombre vaults of the manor are crowned by Gothic turrets; the walls are decorated with intricate mouldings and stone carvings, sculptures of gargoyles, mystical animals and unusual plants. A notable detail of the window sill ornament is an ancient armillary sphere that determines the coordinates of celestial bodies. This astronomical instrument can be seen on several sculptures of Quinta da Regaleira Manor. The estate includes four floors:
- The basement and semi-basement rooms served as the servants’ quarters. The laundry, kitchen, and food pantry are also located here.
- The first floors are richly decorated: here is the Hunting Room with an ancient fireplace, which serves as a dining room. The vaults and fireplace are decorated with sculptures of animals and mosaics with a hunting theme. Then you can go to the billiards room and the Millionaire’s private suite. The first floors once housed the famous library of Carvalho Monteiro and the secret alchemy room.
- The second floor of the palace houses the owner’s former office and the bedrooms of the servant girls.
- The third floor opens onto a terrace with a picturesque panorama of Sintra’s surroundings and the Castle of the Moors.
The palace is crowned by a prominent octagonal tower, under the arches of which is the mysterious Cave of Leda.
Opposite the palace there is a small chapel of the Roman Catholic Church, which complements the decoration of the manor. The interior of the chapel is rich in ancient stained-glass windows and frescoes of religious themes. Alongside Christian symbols, the façade bears the secret signs of the Knights Templar and the Masonic fraternity.
Such is Quinta da Regaleira, one of the most surprising and controversial places in Portugal. When passing through the surroundings of Sintra, be sure to visit this magical example of architecture and human thought, still incomprehensible to this day.