Natural environment of the garden
The Garden faces south and sits on a slope facing the Tagus river. Lisbon has mild winters and warm summers and precipitaton is near 800 mm/year. It enjoys 2806 hours of sun per year. The well exposed terraces are the perfect place to go for a gentle stroll, profiting from the scenery, the views and the shade. Plants have found here an adequate environment to grow along the last 250 years. They came from different continents and adapted to the site. Among the emblematic old trees of this garden we have the Dracaena draco (23 meters in diameter!) and the Ocotea fortens, the so called til or tilo, both originated in Macaronesia.
Historical background of the garden
The Ajuda Botanical Garden is the oldest botanical garden in Portugal. In 1755, most of the downtown area of the city of Lisbon was destroyed by a catastrophic earthquake and tidal wave. The king, D. José I, decided to move the royal residence to safer ground on the hillside of Ajuda. D. José ordered the construction of an adjoining botanical garden. To build the garden, D. José sent for Domenico Vandelli (1735-1816), a naturalist from Padua. The Ajuda Royal Botanical Garden was founded around 1768 and was the first botanical garden in Portugal, occupying an area of 3.8 hectares and composed of two south-facing terraces, forming a unique vantage point from which visitors can enjoy a magnificent view of the River Tagus. In the late 18th century, botanical missions to Portugal’s overseas colonies greatly enriched the collection, which at that time grew to around 5,000 specimens. During the French invasions of the early 19th century, many of the garden’s botanical specimens were removed to Paris by order of General Junot. However, the garden survived, and through the professional care of Felix de Avelar Brotero (1744-1828), it managed to regain its prestige. In 1873, with the completion of another botanical garden at the Escola Politécnica, the botanical function of the Ajuda Garden came to an end. The garden passed to the administration of the royal palace and, once again, became a space of leisure for the Portuguese royal family. With the establishment of the Portuguese Republic in 1910, the garden was renamed as the Ajuda Botanical Garden and placed under the care of the Instituto Superior de Agronomia (ISA), which performed a major renovation. The garden has been open to the public ever since. At the end of the 20th century, ISA applied successfully for European Commission funding to conserve the architectural heritage of the garden. The funding allowed for important restoration works: between 1994 and 1997, under the guidance of Professor Cristina Castel-Branco, the architectural and sculptural features of the two terraces were cleaned and restored, and the stone beds that house the botanical collection on the upper terrace were rebuilt according to drawings from 1869. The checkerboard-like pattern of 1,200 stone beds containing herbaceous and small shrubs is organised by phytogeographic area, according to the layout of the bicentennial trees already established in this area.
Description of the Garden
Occupying 3.8 hectares on a hill, the garden is divided into two terraces connected with each other by a monumental Baroque staircase, the Escadaria Central. The lower terrace has an Italianesque layout with a geometric pattern of paths and long hedges of boxwood arranged around flower beds. Plenty of tall trees provide some welcome shade. At the center of the lower level stands a monumental fountain, the Fonte das Quarenta Bicas (Fountain of the Forty Spouts). The eighteenth-century fountain has forty-one water spouts, disguised as serpents, fish or sea horses. Plenty more statues of frogs, shells and ducks decorate the fountain which is placed in the middle of a large basin for water plants. The most interesting botanical plants ascend to the upper level where, despite the many challenges faced by the Ajuda Botanical Garden, most of the original vegetal elements remain to this day, especially its magnificent trees, which include a Dracaena draco, a Ficus microcarpa and a Ficus macrophylla, a Schotia afra and a Ocotea foetens. Also, in this terrace can be found a phytogeographical collection, rebuilt over the years and today numbers 1,602 taxa, all of them labelled. The collection of cactus and other xerophytic plants is under development in one of the three green houses. A seed bank (Banco de Sementes Prof. João do Amaral Franco) was founded in 2010 and since this date has contributed to the Millennium Seed Bank and store seeds to conservation purposes such as a collection of temporary ponds plants and from Serra da Arrábida (a protected area), according to biodiversity conservation principles. The cottage near the gate in Calçada da Ajuda was restored and the Jardim de Aromas (Scented Garden) constructed in 1998. In a lively addition to the garden, the greenhouse near the Calçada do Galvão gate was converted, in the same occasion, into a restaurant, “Estufa Real”. In 2015, the wooded area was renovated favouring native plants, recreating the phytosociological environment of the region. This kind of garden allow visitors to see the indigenous flora of Lisbon side by side with exotic species of high ornamental value
1768, Domenico Vandelli was charged to create the first botanical garden in Portugal, in Ajuda. He had live plants and seeds brought from botanical gardens all over the world and at one point amassed a collection of more than 5,000 species.
1772-1791, Júlio Mattiazi, who was master gardener of Europe’s oldest botanical garden in Padua, Italy, took care of the garden, while Vandelli was in Coimbra.
1791-1810, Domenico Vandelli, Director of Ajuda Royal Botanical Garden.
1807, Napoleonic invasions, part of the collection disappears.
1811-1828, Felix Avellar Brotero, the most distinguished Portuguese botanist of his time, also Professor of Botany in the University of Coimbra, succeed Vandelli as director of the garden. He kept a register of the plants cultivated in the garden, of which several manuscript copies are known.
1836, the Ajuda Royal Museum and Botanical Garden were placed under the administrative responsibility of the Academy of Science.
1838, incorporation of the Gardens in the new Polytechnic School.
1840-1844, Friedrich Welwitsch (1806-1872), curator of the Ajuda Royal Botanical Garden, updated Brotero’s list and he noted the new seedings carried out during his stay at the garden.
1874, Ajuda Royal Botanical Garden handed back to the management of the royal household and from then progressively fell into a state of decay.
1910, the garden was placed under the responsibility of the Instituto Superior de Agronomia (ISA).
1941, a hurricane struck Lisbon and a large proportion of trees have been uprooted and part of the wood disappeared.
1945, the first major restoration. The restorers did not try to recreate the old botanical collection. Instead they began to manage the Gardens in such a way as to hold decay and assure plants were healthy. New facilities such as the potting building were introduced ans the boxwood garden was restored.
1974, Revolution at April 25th. A Commission named by the board of Instituto Superior de Agronomia was installed and horticulture classes came into the Gardens.
1995-1998, second major restoration works led by Cristina Castel-Branco.
2000, foundation of the Friends Association of the Ajuda Botanical Garden (AAJBA).
2002-2018, Dalila Espírito Santo as director of the Garden.
2010, foundation of the Seed Bank Prof. João do Amaral Franco.