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Sunday, January 6, 2013

Beckford and Monserrate

I have mentioned the author and extravagant traveler William Beckford before, but I couldn't go on without referring his short stay in Sintra Portugal, at the Monserrate palace.

Letters from Italy with Sketches of Spain and Portugal, published in 1835, and Recollections of an Excursion to the Monasteries of Alcobaça and Batalha where some of his best known writings, specially when it comes to have a period view on life in Portugal at the turn of the century.

If you wish to have a look at these 2 books, please have a look at the bottom of the English version of Wikipedia's page on William Beckford. There you will find 2 links on the e-book versions, down loadable for free.

Beckford arrived in Portugal in 1787 and, as a common practice, not only in those days but today as well, he visited the outskirts of Lisbon, specially the city of Sintra. Here, in a magical, mountainous, forestry surroundings, he fell in love with the place (have a look at some pictures from my post “A Napoleonic B-day”) and sub-rented the Monserrate palace in 1793. The owner was the Melo e Castro family (family of the famous Marquês de Pombal) that had rented the property out to Gerard DeVisme, an English merchant of Pau-brasil, who only owned the palace as a summer house.

The today’s' palace has nothing to do with the former one. The 1st palace, which was built by DeVisme after the former houses where destroyed by the 1755 earthquake, had a new-Gothic architecture, while the today's palace is a a splendorous Portuguese romantic example, which reminds me a bit of the Royal palace in Brighton, UK, although different periods. Even the chapel Nossa Senhora de Monserrate, which gave it's name to the property (1stly known as Quinta da Bela Vista before the 17th century), was rebuilds somewhere else.

Painting by Wells, published London, 1795. View of Sintra (in the far left) from the Monserrate palace. It says: «A view of Me. de Vismés country seat at Monserat with distant town of Cyntra & the quinta of  D. Joao de Castro at Penha Verde, the Duke of Cadaval's, Quinta at Colares.»

Palace of Monserrate, circa 1829. Don't know the author.

Palace of Monserrate today. Picture taken form the Sintra's Townhall's website.

During his stay in Monserrate, Beckford used some of his vast richness to make some improvements of the property, not only architectural wise but also at the construction of the 1st botanical garden that that property had.

Beckford stays in Sintra around 2 years, returning to England from 1795 to 1798 and coming back to Portugal after that. In a letter of 1795 he writes to Mme. Isabel Sill Bezerra, offering her to stay at Monserrate by saying: «My dear friend, I've been to much engaged with the royalty of Nature, with climbing rocks and cork trees, with tracing rills and runnels to their source and examining the recess of of these lovely environs».
To read more on the history of this palace, please have a look at the following link (in Portuguese only, unfortunately):

He leaves definitely in 1799. After this the palace and gardens suffer a decline (French Invasions) and only got to get “saved” in the 1850's.
During his 1st stay in Portugal he writes about Sintra having an illimited view from this pyramidal hill that can be enjoyed. Even other authors and personalities have said if they had been born in Sintra, that nothing would have tempted them to move away from that place (Robert Southey, in Letters written during the journey to Spain and a short residence in Portugal) and describing Sintra as the “Glorious Eden” (Lord Byron).

1 comment:

Le Loup said...

Good post Sara. I have posted to Twitter, Facebook & Google.
Regards, Keith.