Natural environment of the garden
The geo-environmental context in which the Bussaco Forest is inserted is unique
Climate can be classified as mild, frost is occasional, and snowfall is rare. Annual rainfall is about 1500 millimetres. Fog is very frequent and dense, especially in summer and autumn.
Concerning geological characterization, Bussaco forms part of the transition between the Meso-Cenozoic Orla and the Hesperian Massif, more precisely in the syncline structure that begins at Bussaco and extends for about forty kilometers to the cliffs of Góis at Serra of Lousã. This area of ordovician and silurian-aged land is framed by pre-cambrian geological units which are partly covered by more recent units associated with the Cenozoic. The rocky complexes that constitute this geological formation are the Cristalophilic Complex (shales and metagrauvaques) and the Xisto-Grauváquico Complexx (shales, metagrauvaques, metaquartzovaques, and metaconglomerates). In addition to these rocks it is possible to see red siliceous greywackes, conglomerates, armorican quartzite, micaceous pellets and sandstones. The soils are mostly clayey or argillaceous, with alternating zones that present more or less stratigraphic power depending on the shape of the rocky substratum where they settle. As a result of the mentioned environmental characteristics, it is possible to sight luxuriant vegetation throughout the wooded area, including trees planted in the 19th century that nowadays reach remarkable dimensions.
Species that do not adapt to the characteristics of the Bussaco Forest are rare, as this forest has an incredible collection of protected native species as well as a lot of exotic species that in their countries of origin are also protected species. The tree cover is diverse and abundant. In the primitive forest, the predominance was oak (Quercus), punctuated by chestnut trees (Castanea sativa), hazelnuts (Corylus avellana) which are now side by side with Phillyrea latifolia, Arbutus unedo, Viburnum tinus, Laurus nobilis, Erica arborea, Ilex aquifolium and others. The most emblematic exotic species is the Cedro-do-Buçaco (Cupressus lusitanica) native of Mexico, introduced at the beginning of the seventeenth century by the Carmelites. Next to the hermitage of San José there is a Cupressus lusitanica from 1644. Among the exotic species stand out Araucaria bidwillii, Araucaria angustifolia, Araucaria columnaris, Agathis robusta, Pinus pinaster, Pinus pinea, Pinus sylvestris, Pinus nigra, Pinus canariensis and Sequoia sempervirens.
In addition to the impressive set of tree species, it is worth noting that Bussaco Forest also has a large number of ornamental plant species, being impossible not to mention the impressive Camelia collection, originated in a gift by Quinta Villar d’Allen in 1884.
Historical background of the garden
The Bussaco Forest dates to the 17th century, when the Carmelite Order selected this site to install its first and only desert in Portuguese territory. The reasons that captivated the coming of this order to “Monte Bussaco”, name by which it was known at the time, are mainly due to the natural characteristics of the place. Carmelite friars who visited the area for the first time, found the existing forest a true terrain paradise. Majestic shady trees and fresh permanent water sources concurred to a place of tranquillity prone to reflection, far from large urban centres.
The Carmelite treated the forest as a garden. They built fountains, hermitage housing scattered in the woods and a monumental Via Crucis adorned by chapels with scenes of the passion of Christ portrayed on terracotta. In addition to the introduction of these architectural elements, the monks introduced some arboreal species such as cedar, with the intention to give Bussaco a landscape appearance similar to that of Jerusalem, creating therefore a sacred forest. Notably by insistence of the Carmelites, in the 28th of March of 1643, Pope Urban VIII signs in Rome a sentence of excommunication ipso facto incurrenda, for whoever enters the Bussaco Forest to cut trees or to collect wood. However, around 1834, a law was passed extinguishing male religious orders and Bussaco lost its Carmelite community. Yet the forest was handed over to a priest who, accompanied by a butler, guarded the place and welcomed guests.
In 1838 Bussaco Forest is removed from the list of state assets announced for sale, being inserted, in 1855, in the General Administration of the Kingdom Forests. Maria Pia de Saboia, consort of King Luís I, like her mother-in-law Queen Maria II, visits Bussaco in 1877, accompanied by her children, Carlos, future king of Portugal, and Afonso. The passion of Maria Pia de Saboia for Bussaco is almost immediate. Thus in 1877, with the intention of providing Bussaco with novelties of the time, Maria Pia commissioned a project to the firm G. Roda e Figli of Turin. The project included the construction of an English garden to be created next to the convent, with a formal rosette-shaped garden, pavilions, restaurant, bird cages, grottos for wildlife, a fish tank and garden benches. However, this project was not implemented.
In 1888, Bussaco, on the initiative of Emídio Navarro (Minister of Public Works) and the hand of Luigi Manini, undergoes profound changes. In that year the construction of Bussaco Palace Hotel begins on the site of the monastery, accompanied in the South side by a garden, which we can still see today. Next to the Palace Hotel, to the west remains the original church and the cloister of the monastery.
Description of the Garden
The forest is enclosed by a wall composed of 11 doors. The doors of Coimbra, built in the 17th century, constituted the old concierge of the monastery. The remnants of the monastery and the Palace-hotel are located in the centre of the forest, surrounded by boxwood gardens, geometrically designed, punctuated by lakes, fountains and pergolas. The garden was built on a gentle slope and was arranged in small terraces. In the lower part of the garden there is a well-tended parterre, with semicircular flower beds and a circular flower bed in the centre that form a rosacea. The beds are formed by Buxus sempervirens, which also draw its insides with floral motifs.
In Bussaco Forest, the parallelism with Jerusalem is evident, mainly, in the relation of the chapels scattered in the forest and the morphology of the terrain. The via-sacra is allegorical of the journey made by Jesus Christ to the Calvary and of its crucifixion and extends for 2840 m in length and a height of 105 m. It rises to the High Cross/”Cruz Alta”, the most remarkable viewpoint of the whole property.
The devotional chapels are all over the forest area and usually located in the vicinity of a source that supplies them with water for domestic services and watering the garden. Taking advantage of the high number of springs and creeks existing in Bussaco, several fountains were built and the Cold Fountain/ “Fonte Fria” stands out with a staircase of ten flights and an equal number of levels, which ends in a small lake. Nearby, in the Fern Valley/ “Vale dos Fetos”, is located the Big Lake7″Lago Grande”. Crosses are also a striking element in the bush of Bussaco, such as High Cross/”Cruz Alta”. Chapels are simple and equipped with oratory, sacristy, space for rest and house of fire for heating and preparation of meals, steeple with bell, as well as small gardens with raised flower beds and a cistern. A dense network of footpaths runs through the woods. Of these, the mentioned route of the Via Crucis, between the passage of the Horto, next to the Palace-hotel, and the step of the Sepulchre, next to the High Cross, the one that goes from the door of the Lapas to the
The devotional chapels are all over the forest area but are almost always in the vicinity of a source that supplies it with water for domestic services and watering the garden. Taking advantage of the high number of springs and creeks existing in Bussaco, several fountains were built and the Cold Fountain/ “Fonte Fria” stands out with a staircase of ten flights and an equal number of levels, which ends in a small lake. Nearby, in the Fern Valley/”Vale dos Fetos”, is located the Big Lake7″Lago Grande”. Crosses are also a striking element in the bush of Bussaco, such as High Cross/”Cruz Alta”. Chapels are simple and equipped with oratory, sacristy, space for rest and house of fire for heating and preparation of meals, steeple with bell, as well as small gardens with raised flower beds and a cistern. A dense network of footpaths runs through the woods. Of these, the mentioned route of the Via Crucis, between the passage of the Horto, next to the Palace-hotel, and the step of the Sepulchre, next to the High Cross, the one that goes from the door of the Lapas to the Cold Fountain/ “Fonte Fria”, parallel to the Fern Valley/ “Vale dos Fetos” and the avenue of the Monastery, that connects the convent / Palace-hotel to the gates of Coimbra and is one of the oldest paths in Bussaco, punctuated by four chapels.
6th century – Bussaco is owned by the Benedictine Monastery of Vacariça (village at 5 km)
1094 – the monastery of Vacariça in the hands of the Bishop of Coimbra
1628 – D. João Manuel, Bishop Count of Coimbra, donates to the Carmelites the woods and lands called Bussaco; beginning of the construction of the desert / convent of Bussaco and introduction of the first exotic trees
1630 – completion of the main works and opening of the Coimbra Doors1641 – foundation of the Hermitage of St. Joseph
1643 – excommunication decreed by Pope Urban VIII, against whom would damage the grove of the Forest of Santa Cruz do Bussaco, without permission of the Prior
1646 – foundation of the Hermitage of the Holy Sepulchre
1650 – foundation of the Hermitage of St. John of the Desert
1651 – foundation of the Hermitage of St. Miguel
17th century (mid) – by order of Manuel Saldanha, rector of the University of Coimbra, the Via Crucis is installed
1684/1704 – building of the Chapels of St. John of the Cross, St. Peter, St. Mary Magdalene and Samaritan fountain, chapel of St. Anthony and the 20 Chapels of the Steps (1695) under the aegis of Bishop-Count D. João de Melo
1834 – extinction of the Monastic Orders and nationalization of their property
1838 – the government excludes the convent and the Bussaco forest from the list of national goods to be sold
1855 – General Directorate of National Properties transfers the Bussaco Forest and all its assets to the General Administration of the Kingdom’s Forests1856 – restoration and reforestation works
1872 – Bussaco Forest under a special regime in the dependence of the General Administrator of Forests
1887 – as of this date there are numerous works of enhancement
1889 – work begins on the preparation of the royal palace, Luigi Manini’s project, and part of the Carmelite convent, the refectory and the inns were demolished
1941 – a cyclone caused the general destruction (about 5400 large trees fell down) 1997 – the management of the Bussaco National Forest is attributed to the Regional Directorate of Agriculture of Beira Litoral
2017 – Publication of decision regarding the reclassification as a whole / National Monument in Announcement no. 95/2017, DR, 2nd series, no. 122 of June 27