Natural environment of the garden
The Cultural Landscape of Sintra is located in Portugal’s central region, at the extreme west of the Iberian Peninsula and a few kilometres away from the Atlantic Ocean. This Cultural Landscape is an exceptional mixture of natural and cultural sites within a distinct framework. Seen from a distance, it gives the impression of an essentially natural landscape that is distinct from its surroundings: a small chain of forested granite mountains rising over the hilly rural landscape. When seen from closer at hand, the Serra reveals a surprisingly rich cultural evidence spanning over several centuries of Portugal’s history.
This cultural landscape is an extraordinary and unique complex of parks, gardens, palaces, country houses, monasteries and castles, which create an architecture that harmonizes with the exotic and overgrown vegetation, creating micro-landscapes of exotic and luxuriant beauty. This amalgamation of exotic styles changes the landscape into an abundant world which offers surprises at every turn in the path, leading the visitor from a discovery to another. Its uniqueness and botanical richness presented to the visitor with great accuracy, and its charming environment make it unique among landscapes. This syncretism between nature and ancient monuments, villas, monasteries and chalets influenced the development of landscape architecture throughout Europe.
The Palace of Monserrate was designed for Sir Francis Cook by the distinguished British architect James Knowles Junior. Again, it is an example of mid-19th century eclecticism, adapted to the remains of the earlier building, also ruined in the 1755 earthquake. lt combines neo-Gothicism with substantial elements derived from the architecture of lndia. Monserrate is renowned for its gardens, largely the work of Thomas Gargill: careful analysis of the microclimatic zones of the land made it possible to plant over 3000 exotic species, collected from all parts of the world. The Park of Monserrate covers 50 ha on the northern slopes of the Serra. William Beckford’s remodelling of the existing palace in the late 18th century involved the creation of a landscape garden. When he took over, Sir Francis Cook employed James Burt to design various sites for exotic gardens. The planned gardens are surrounded by a semi-natural oak forest.
Historical background of the garden
Four kilometres from Sintra’s historic centre, and bearing witness to the eclectic tastes of the 19th century, are the peerless Palace and Park of Monserrate, where the exotic vegetal motifs of the building’s interior decoration extend harmoniously to the gardens outside
The estate of Monserrate was rented by Gerard de Visme (1789), a wealthy English merchant, who built a house there in the neo-Gothic style. William Beckford then subleased Monserrate in 1793-1794, but, in 1809, when Lord Byron visited the property, the house was already in ruins. The estate’s sublime appearance was a source of inspiration for the poet, who sang of the beauty of Monserrate in his poem “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage”, after which it became obligatory for foreign travellers to visit the property.
One of the most famous visitors was Francis Cook, another extremely wealthy English industrialist, who was later decorated by King Luís with the title of Viscount of Monserrate and subrogated the estate in 1856.
Over the years, the surrounding gardens have welcomed plant species from all over the world. Organised according to geographical areas (perhaps most notably that of Mexico), the gardens reflect the diverse origins of the plants, composing different scenic effects along the paths that lead you through ruins and hidden nooks and crannies, past lakes and waterfalls. It was, therefore, thanks to the intervention of the painter William Stockdale and the master gardener Francis Burt, but above all the romantic spirit of Francis Cook, that the Park of Monserrate grew to become what it is today. In the various gardens, as you walk along winding paths and commune with spontaneously growing species from the region (such as strawberry trees, holly bushes and imposing cork-trees), you will find surprisingly contrasting scenery, with the sudden appearance of age-old araucarias and palm-trees, and tree ferns from Australia and New Zealand, as well as agaves and yuccas recreating a corner of Mexico. This walk through the botanical delights of five continents also offers you camellias, azaleas, rhododendrons and bamboos, evoking memories of a Japanese garden.
The estate and the Palace were bought by the Portuguese State in 1949.
The Park and Palace of Monserrate were classified as a Property of Public Interest in 1993, and were included in the Cultural Landscape of Sintra, which has been classified by UNESCO as World Heritage since 1995.
In 2000, responsibility for the management of the estate was transferred to Parques de Sintra, which embarked upon a profound programme of recovery and restoration work. This has made it possible to reopen the Palace to the public, while returning the Park’s historic gardens to their former glory.
In 2013, the Park of Monserrate was distinguished with a European Garden Award under the category of the “Best Development of a Historic Park or Garden”.
Description of the Garden
The gardens of Monserrate were built in 1790 by Gerard De Visme, an English merchant who had made his fortune in trade with Brazil. A correspondent of Sir Joseph Banks he co-funded plant hunting expeditions to Brazil and other exotic locations to provide plants for his gardens. Monserrate was briefly the home of William Beckford and Byron visited and described the house and garden exactly 200 years ago (Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage). The botanical gardens were founded in the 1850’s by Sir Francis Cook, Bt., and developed over four generations (1856-1947). Plant collections include a number of magnificent tree specimens, some of which are probably among the largest of their kind in cultivation: Araucaria heterophylla, Araucaria bidwillii, Metrosideros excelsa, Apollonias barbujana, Agathis robusta. The garden contains fine palms and tree ferns and some cycads including an enormous Lepidozamia peroffskyana. Garden restoration work is currently underway; in 2009 the succulent plant collections known historically as “Mexico” were reconstructed, in the coming year it is planned to reinstate the ornamental ponds, rose garden and tree fern valley.
The historical gardens of the Palace of Monserrate are considered one of the most important English landscape gardens beyond the shores of the British Isles and one of the most beautiful landscaped creations of the Romantic period in Portugal. The higliths are the following:
A mythological creature providing an introduction to the idea of the fantastic that lies beyond the garden gates. The sculpture of the entrance gate is not the original one, which can be seen inside the palace itself.
This is a plant species that is under threat in Portugal. Its distinctive features are its prickly leaves and small red berries, which are only found on the plant’s female specimens.
A stone arch allegedly built by William Beckford. The name refers to the main character in his most famous novel, Vathek.
An artificial waterfall attributed to William Beckford.
A lake named after a legendary fountain in Ancient Greece.
A remarkable collection of tree-ferns in a valley with an unusual microclimate.
A shrub that in Sintra grows to the size of a tree. Its fruit is used to make brandy.
A false ruin created by Francis Cook from the chapel built by Gerard de Visme to replace the former chapel of Our Lady of Monserrate. Now engulfed by the surrounding vegetation, the ruin is already indissociable from the Australian rubber tree.
The Chapel’s niche housed one of the three Etruscan sarcophagi that were used as garden ornaments. All three are now exhibited at the Archaeological Museum of São Miguel de Odrinhas, in Sintra.
Collection of Asian plants, most notably bamboos and camellias.
The hottest and driest part of the garden of Monserrate due to the deviation of the watercourse down the hillside. It has collections of plants from warm climates: palms, yuccas, nolinas, agaves and cycads. It was completely restored in 2010. Read more [+]
A collection of historic varieties of rose bushes planted in the valley. After its complete restoration, it was opened in 2011, by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall.
Norfolk Island pine
This is the garden’s tallest tree, measuring more than 50 metres in height.
This was the first lawn to be planted in Portugal, notable for its size and its unusual cambered surface, which called for a creative watering system.
At the beginning of summer, this tree is covered in red flowers.
A porch overlooking the lawn.
A staircase leading to the scented path.
Bordered by pergolas with wisteria and jasmine. Both flowers release a strong and pleasant scent in spring.
An ornamental Indian arch bought by Sir Francis Cook from Charles Canning, the Governor-General of India, after the Sepoy Rebellion in 1857.
Today, this building is used as the head offices of Parques de Sintra-Monte da Lua. In the past, the top floor was used as a carpenter’s shop, while the bottom floor served as a cow shed.
A false cromlech attributed to William Beckford.
These trees are normally grown in Portugal for the extraction of their cork barks. The ones in the gardens of Monserrate have never had their barks removed, making them very thick and wrinkled.
Construction of the chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Monserrate on the hilltop of the Palace. The property then belonged to Lisbon’s Todos os Santos Hospital.
The Mello e Castro family takes possession of the Monserrate Estate.
Acquisition of the Estate by Caetano de Mello e Castro, Commander in the Order of Christ and Viceroy of India.
The Lisbon earthquake leaves the estate’s houses uninhabitable.
Gerard de Visme leases the farm and builds a Neo-Gothic palace over the ruins of the former chapel.
William Beckford rents the property, carries out works on the palace and begins laying out a landscaped garden.
Francis Cook sublets the Estate in 1856. The effective acquisition of the property took place in 1863. He immediately plans for the renovation of the Palace and Gardens to serve as a summer residence.
The Portuguese state acquired the estate and its hunting grounds with a total area of 143 hectares.
The Park and Palace of Monserrate were categorized as a building of public interest.
UNESCO classifies the Sintra Hills, which includes the Park of Monserrate, as a World Heritage Cultural Landscape.
Parques de Sintra takes over the management of the Park of Monserrate.
Parques de Sintra takes on the management of the Palace of Monserrate and the corresponding responsibility for its restoration and refurbishment that enabled the palace to be reopened to the public.
Brief description of the Interpretation Centre/Museum
According to legend, there was a chapel dedicated to Virgin Mary built by Afonso Henriques after the reconquest of Sintra . On its ruins another chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Monserrate was constructed on the top of the hill in 1540. The estate was then owned by Hospital Real de Todos os Santos, Lisbon. In the 17th century possession of the property was taken by the Mello e Castro family but after the 1755 Lisbon earthquake the farmhouse became unlivable.
An English merchant named Gerard de Visme rented the farm in 1789 and built a neo-Gothic house over the ruins of the chapel. In 1793-1794 the estate was subleased by William Thomas Beckford who started to design a landscaped garden. Though the property was still in ruins when Lord Byron visited in 1809, its magnificent appearance inspired the poet, who mentioned of the beauty of Monserrate in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. After that, the property attracted foreign travelers’ attention. One of them was Francis Cook, a wealthy English merchant who subleased the estate in 1856 and was graced with the title of Viscount of Monserrate by King D. Louis. Cook purchased the property in 1863 and started to work with the architect James Knowles on the remains of the house built by de Visme. The Palace became the summer residence of the Cook family.
The design was influenced by Romanticism and Mudéjar Moorish Revival architecture with Neo-Gothic elements. The eclecticism is a fine example of the Sintra Romanticism, along with other nearby Palaces, such as the Pena Palace and the Quinta do Relógio. The Islamic architectural influence is in reference to when the region was a part of the wider Muslim Gharb Al-Andalus until the 13th century.
The property and hunting grounds were acquired by the Portuguese state in 1949. In 1978 the Park and Palace of Monserrate were categorized as a building of public interest. In 1995 Sintra Hills, including the Park of Monserrate, was defined as a World Heritage Cultural Landscape by UNESCO. The management of the Park of Monserrate was taken over by the Sintra Park in 2000 and its recovery and restoration program enabled the Palace to re-open to the public.