If you find yourself in the beautiful Portuguese city of Sintra for Pena Palace, why not stay a little longer to visit the National Palace of Queluz?
Introducing the National Palace of Queluz
Quinta da Regaleira is a public garden classified as World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The Park is located in the municipality of Sintra, one hundred kilometres north from Lisbon on Portugal’s Atlantic coast. The Quinta has been classified as National Monument since 1934 and its gardens are open to visitors for an admission fee valid for two consecutive days. It is one of the most famous monuments related to Freemasonry in Europe due to its many symbols included in ironwork, architecture, inscriptions and statues..
The Quinta da Regaleira is located in a wooded landscape of great natural beauty, in the heart of the Serra de Sintra, one of the most important mountains ranges in Portugal. The building was surrounded by woods and did not have direct contact with any urban center until the 18th century. This isolation caused it to be forgotten until its rediscovery in the 19th century.
Visiting the National Palace of Queluz
The oldest part of Quinta da Regaleira is the main building. It is made out of stone and has a central courtyard measuring 31 meters by 18 meters. The north wing currently serves as an exhibition space for temporary shows which are all different, ranging from Renaissance art to fine arts. The south wing has a vegetation park and an Italian garden with statues, fountains and ponds.
The statue in the center of the landscape park is the largest chronological sundial in the world, with two clocks located on top of each other. The sundial was designed by architect Leopoldo O’Neil and represents a Father Time figure holding a book in his right hand. The book shows signs of all the zodiac constellations as well as hours and minutes. It is also possible to observe an eclipse through two holes in the statue’s eyes. There are more than 10 hidden water clocks located throughout Quinta da Regaleira; one is surrounded by hedges.
In the garden there is an aviary with many birds from around the world as well as a 19th-century Japanese garden. There are also two 18th-century gazebos (a covered, open-sided pavilion), one with a stone altar and one which includes a library. This room has bookshelves which are said to be inspired by the ones in D. João’s private library in Belém Palace.
The Quinta da Regaleira building has one of Europe’s largest collections of Freemasonry symbols including Freemason trowels and compasses, Masonic symbols in ironworks and stained glass windows that show important Masonic figures.
There are also a large number of grottos at Quinta da Regaleira which shows the Freemasonry figures and symbols. The main one is the “Grotto of the King” located in the Italian garden. It has 17th and 18th-century symbolism, and official documents refer to it as a work by Aleijadinho, an important Brazilian sculptor during the Baroque period. However, there is no record of his being in Portugal at that time. This cave is decorated with Masonic symbols such as a trowel with three handles (Masonry symbol) and an iron compass on top of a triangle (Freemasonry symbol). The ceiling has a painting of the Aurora Borealis.
On the outside, there is a sundial showing many Masonic symbols including trowels and compasses with two hands inside them. There are also three pairs of statues which are divided in groups together with two circles — one within the other. The circles represent the sun and moon, while the trees symbolize night and day. Above this group is Freemasonry’s most common symbol: three downward pointing triangles representing wisdom, strength and beauty united by God according to Freemasonry beliefs. They also represent good, evil, life and death.
The “Grotto of the Bride” has three passages which represent the journey through life. The first is a passage to the womb, the second represents birth and being a child, while the third one is symbolizing adulthood. The group of statues inside includes one representing a woman who is holding an opened book in her right hand. It is said that this book represents the secret symbols of Freemasonry. There are many other statues in this grotto such as Cleopatra, Venus and Eros.
The West part of Quinta da Regaleira has a series of statues created by Aleijadinho who was responsible for much of this part. These include a lion group with a Masonic symbolism (such as the three downward pointing triangles) in which one of the lions is holding a book, with the figure of Eve being between them. The association with Freemasonry is said to be obvious because this part of Quinta da Regaleira also includes an astronomical observatory known as Casa dos Cisnes (House of the Swans). The other statues here are one named “Despair” and “Hope”, which represent doubt and hope respectively.
The House of the Angra do Reis is located at the end of “Quinta da Regaleira”. This is a house containing masonic symbols and also with statues of saints. The house has a porch with Doric columns and the statue of Eros (the god of love) in front, which is considered by some people to be an important example of Aleijadinho’s work.
The other elements that can be found in “Quinta da Regaleira” are a series of stairways, known as “Ramparts”, where the group of statues named “Despair” and “Hope” are also located. These stairways lead to the top area from where the whole park can be seen.
History of the National Palace of Queluz
The construction of this place dates back to the 16th century although it was not finished until much later. There was no clear destination for this building and therefore several rooms are no longer in their original function or even look similar to what they originally were. The original purpose is not known for sure. Some of the legends that surround this place are connected to a lady named D. Leonor de Távora and her mansion located in Águas Livres, Lisbon. She was punished for adultery and banished to Sintra, which was then a Royal hunting area. When her husband discovered who she had an affair with, he killed them both and buried them on the grounds of Quinta da Regaleira. The chapel is supposed to be their tomb although it has never been found as there have been no excavations near the chapel grounds.
The palace served as a refuge in 1580 during the attack by English pirates led by Francis Drake who sacked Lisbon that same year. In fact, the palace was not finished until King Philip II of Spain ordered its completion in 1590. Philip II visited the palace with his family in 1601. It continued to be a royal residence until 1834 when the royal family moved to Brazil and left Quinta da Regaleira behind.
It has had several owners since then including António Augusto Carvalho Monteiro, 2nd Marquis of Pombal who purchased it in 1850. He did many reconstruction projects and planted exotic trees from Africa and Asia. The first electric illumination was also installed at that time which created a spectacle of light very similar to a Christmas tree. In the year 1887, the Ministry of Finances bought the palace and later sold it to Jorge O’Neil, 6th Duke of Bragança.
In 1917, Francisco de Sousa Holstein acquired it and put it in his daughter’s name as heiress. She married a Brazilian man named Afonso d’Escragnolle Taunay. In 1935, she inherited her father’s library which contained many rare books as well as first editions by Portuguese and foreign authors including Sá de Miranda, Camilo Castelo Branco and Luís de Camões. Many of the books were later given to the Biblioteca Nacional in Lisbon. In 1969, Quinta da Regaleira was sold to the city of Lisbon for a token sum and became fully owned by the state in 1989. It opened to public that same year as a historical monument and has since been classified as both a National Monument and UNESCO World Heritage Site.