The New York Times, July 30, 1866, p. 2:|
PICTURES OF PORTUGAL.OUR LISBON CORRESPONDENCE.
Visit to Cintra and Mafra.--Pena Castle--Cork Convent--Montserrat--
Royal Palace of Cintra--Don Sebastian's Last Audience Room--
Magpie Chamber--Don Alphonso's Prison-Chamber Sala dos Cernos.
LISBON, Saturday, July 7, 1866.
I have just returned from a visit, made with a pleasant party of friends, to Cintra and Mafra--two of the most interesting points in Portugal. We started from Lisbon at 6 in the morning in an open carriage, whirled through the streets of the city, past the barriers, and out into the suburbs. The road--a good macadamized one--was in excellent condition, so that the ride was very pleasant.
The principal roads are so frequently walled up at the sides with high stone walls, covered with stucco, and over which you cannot see, that it is difficult to tell where the country commences, and where the city ends. When well out from the city the arches of the aqueduct are seen spanning the numerous valleys between the hills, (for the surface of the country is very irregular.) They are of a dull, whitish color, and form a fine contrast to the green fields and foliage.
On the way out we passed the palace and gardens of Queluz, where the King occasionally resorts for amusement. Beyond this is the quaint tower of Benfica, with an old weather-stained church. All along the road to Cintra, fifteen miles, are clusters of buildings, little hamlets &c., so that we were rarely out of sight of buildings of some kind.
Along the roadside at various places stone crosses are erected of different sizes, and the popular tradition is that they are erected on the spots where murders have been committed; but as the Doctor and myself both remarked, the murderer and the murdered seem always to have judiciously selected the most picturesque and effective spots whereon to perform with reference to the future effectiveness of the cross when erected.
As we approached Cintra the foliage became more luxuriant, and part of the time the road was completely arched over by the interlocking boughs of large and ancient elms, and the walls on each side were green with the growth of ancient mosses and plants resembling air plants, which seemed to flourish in this shady moisture and dampness of their position.
We soon emerged from these bowers, and had our first view of the crags and peaks of Cintra, perched on the topmost of which was the picturesque Peña Castle, partly veiled in the mist and clouds which hung around the mountain chain. The town is scatteringly built, on the sides and base of the highest peak of a rocky chain that risees abruptly and runs to the seacoast. The highest point is about 2,000 feet above the sea.
The town is composed principally of the "Quintas" or summer residences of the wealthy Lisbonese. There are several old castles that have been the favorite resort of the Portuguese Kings for many centuries--and a number of hotels that are small, ancient and very inconvenient.
We reached Mrs. Laurence's Hotel at 9 A. M., she is an English woman and the beau ideal of one of the portly old English hostesses we read about. We had breakfast immediately and lost no time in setting out on our explorations; mounted on three little donkeys we first went up the steep and rugged zig-zags that lead up the mountains toward the Peña Castle, and when the steepest parts were reached we left the donkeys and proceeded on foot.
This Castle was formerly an old Moorish Castle, and adjoining it there was a convent built after the Moorish period. These have been consolidated and restored by Don Fernando, the late Regent--and the effect of the whole is picturesque in the extreme--passing up through a labyrinth of winding walks, &c., we reached the entrance and passed the drawbridge, and through a covered and winding passage emerged in an irregular court yard from which we could ascend to the principal entrance. From this we were shown into the chapel and sacristy at one side.
The interior was very antiquated, and several tombs of nobility were seen. The altar decorations were of alabaster, and very elaborate, contrasting well with the black and colored marbles. On a little pedestal on one side of the chapel there was a most beautiful little specimen of coral and gold work, and was meant for a sort of shrine--about two feet in circumference, and covered by a glass case. The central statuette was cut apparently from a solid piece of red coral, and the flat surface of the gold plating was cut into figures and scrolls, through which protruded little pieces of red coral, cut to fit them.
The chapel was very ancient and quaint in its internal appearance. From this we went through several passages to the dining-hall, which was octagonal, with a circular table; then on to a large saloon, where there was at one end a plane and other handsome modern furniture, and at the other end a billiard-table, statuary, &c. From this we went through suites of apartments with modern furniture in them, that are used by Don Fernando and the present King now when they visit Cintra in the Summer.
There are no good pictures in the gallery, and the only interesting one was the "Death of Camoens." From this we ascended to the dome of the highest tower, which is capped with a little temple-of-liberty-shaped structure, from which I delivered a spread-eagle oration for the benefit of all Portugal, and which Mr. G------ and the Doctor cheered heartily.
The view from this elevated point was very fine. We could see Lisbon, the sea, and all around beneath us was the town of Cintra, with its villas.
Then we descended and examined some of the details of the original Moorish part of the structure, always so quaint and attractive; then to the gardens, through which we wandered, visited the conservatory, which was quite small, and then remounted our donkeys and started down our rocky path to see the rest of the sights.
From the Peña Castle we descended the breakneck paths, and giving our donkeys the reins, they picked their way where no path was visible--now wading in the bed of a mountain torrent, now clambering over broken masses of boulders in a way that was quite surprising, and which troubled us somewhat to keep our seats; in fact, I slipped off my little donkey twice, and the Doctor was near coming to grief several times--but it was all fun to us.
Well, after an hour's rough riding, we came to a sort of natural court-yard, among the irregular masses of rock, and were told that this was the Cork Convent, as it is called, being the remains of an old Capuchin monastry, founded by Qoas De Castro, and the place where St. Honorius died.
We ascended by some steps that did not show externally to a raised plateau, and passed under a rude archway formed by enormous boulders leaning together, and found ourselves in a shady retreat, where stone benches were cut in the rock around broad flat stones for tables; they were crumbling with age and slimy with moisture and damp moss. At the other end was a rude chapel open on one side, having in it a rude altar of masonry, with a niche containing a hideous-looking attempt at a Madonna.
Here we halted, and our attendants bawled loudly for the presiding genius, who presently appeared through a small door. He was a fitting occupant for such a den, being an aged cripple, whose limbs crossed and over-lapped each other, and who had the grizzled and hideous face imaginable. He mumbled to himself, tottered across the chapel, and unlocked a cork door into another chapel of more pretensions, although it was merely a chamber hewn in the rock, lined with cork, and full of discolored images of saints.
We had all taken off our caps on entering; but as it was damp and cold, I put my cap on again, not thinking it much of a chapel after all, but the old Cerberus immediately told me to take my cap off again, which I smilingly did, and then he gave such an unearthly, diabolical laugh, as to startle the rest of the party...
Below the monastery part was a small garden, having in it a sacred spring, the water from which we found very refreshing; and having sated our thirst we betook ourselves to the place where we had dismounted; but what was our astonishment to find our donkeys gone, and the fragments of their bridles still hanging from the iron rings let into the stone where we had tied them; the poor donkey-teer was overwhelmed with despair, and with his inability to do justice to the subject in Portuguese profanity, but upon our exhortation, he started off with heroic determination expressed in his countenance and a very sharp stick in his hand.
We were soon cheered by the sight of his return, leading he recreant donkeys, looking as demure as if they didn't know who broke the bridles and other gear. It was very amusing to see him assail them in the most reproachful tone and manner, with loud and impassioned epithets, every time they moved even so much as one of their ears or tail, and ever and anon, as he looked over the wreck of the head gear, in his distress he would renew his reproaches in such a manner as should have brought a blush to the cheek of any honorable donkey.
I fear the damages would have been beyond his ability to repair, even with all his donkey experience, had it not been for the nautical fingers that assisted with jack-knife and twine to knot and splice the damaged gear. We were soon on our way rejoicing, and engaged in climbing of a still more troublesome nature than before, for the ascents and descents were in gulley worn in the surface of a decomposing stone that crumbled away under the feet of our animals, so that they would slide along sometimes against their will.
We rode in this way for an hour or so, when we reached the main road, where we could gallop as fast as we pleased, and soon came to Montserrat, a modern villa, owned by an Englishman who resides there during the Winter. It is built upon the site of a famous old castle of the same name. We sent in our cards and received permission to explore the premises. The grounds are very fine. being quite irregular and exceedingly picturesque, broken into rocky crags, glens, &c., with a very lively mountain torrent pouring down through the centre of them.
There were many palms, and other tropical trees and plants, and in appropriate positions were beds of flowers--geraniums seemed to grow wild in this part of the country, and attain great size and luxurience; they are seen growing along the roadside, in large hedges frequently, and in gardens where they are cultivated become very large shrubs; several other flowers that are small in America grow with great luxurience here, though the different varieties do not seem to be as numerous, or as good.
The fields along the roadside are thickly studded with wild flowers of every possible hue, presenting a beautiful appearance, and in the fields of grain the peasantry were busy pulling poppies from among the wheat, where they seemed to grow with great abundance.
The Portuguese are much behindhand in husbandry, as in all things else. Their plows are made apparently after the model of the old Roman plows, and their hoes are the shape and size of a carpenter's adze; the culture everywhere seemed to be of the most primitive nature and much behind the thriftiness and care displayed in Northern Italy, where the care and labor bestowed upon a given surface of soil is greater than any place that has come under my observation.
The vegetables and fruit raised in Portugal are very good, and the strawberries are now plenty. They grow to a very large size--quite as large, if not larger, than any I ever saw in American markets. Almost white in color, and not as rich in flavor, they are retailed in market by the "dozen" for about one-half cent a piece. Oranges are very abundant, and cost one cent each. Lemons grow in great luxurience, and attain an enormous size, larger than any two or three put together I ever saw at home, but they are a very thick-skinned variety.
ROYAL PALACE OF CINTRA.
After exploring the Montserrat place, we mounted again and galloped back to the hotel, from whence we proceeded on foot to the Royal Palace of Cintra. The present building was rebuilt after the earthquake of 1755, but retains many traces of the old Moorish palace, for it has been a favorite place of residence for Moorish and Portuguese kings for many centuries.
It is an irregular and massive pile of no particular order of architecture. We entered the courtyard, and found the major-domo, who proceeded at once to the sala dos cygnets, the principal hall of the castle, having the panels of the lofty ceiling each filled with a large frescoed royal white swan. At each end were large fireplaces, with huge andirons curiously wrought, over six feet high. The furniture was of an antique pattern.
From this we went into the small council chamber, with tile benches around the sides, and a tile throne chair, where Don Sebastian held his last audience before his fatal expedition.
The sitting facilities were about as uncomfortable as could well be imagined; a corridor led from this to the Sala dos Pegas, or Magpie Chamber. Don Jose, the founder of the castle, was detected by his irate Queen engaged under very suspicious circumstances with one of her prettiest maids of honor in this apartment, and upon her upbraiding him he replied, with laconic dignity, "Por bem"--"For good alone"--and as it became a piece of court scandal he had the ceiling frescoed with a magpie in each panel, holding a rose in one claw and scroll, with the motto, "Por bem," in their beaks. This apartment is now used as a dining hall, and adjoining it is a room with glass cases around the walls, containing crockery, glassware, &c.
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