Portugal – Cintra And Mafra

Too much cannot be said of the beauty of this renowned spot. Its striking loveliness consists of a section of deep ravines, lofty heights, bare and rocky summits, luxuriant gardens whose foliage vies with the tropics, a lofty Moorish palace, whose twin turrets are the chimneys of the kitchen ; winding narrow streets half the width of the road on the rocky promontories of New England, little streams trickling down the rocks into dark grottos, great towering pines, imposing palms, a confused heap of rugged and magnificent nature ; beyond which, stretching towards the invisible sea, is a vast plain of variegated beauty, green pastures, yellow grain fields, groups of trees, and those delightful landmarks to a Yankee eye—meandering stone walls. I am only surprised that more travellers do not go to Cintra. We secured quarters at the Lawrence Hotel, a comfortable hostelry, which has sheltered among other distinguished guests Lord Byron and Lord Lytton, Lady Franklin, and many of my predecessors.

Yesterday I walked to Pena. Pena is one of those structures which the ” old people ” of Portugal were so fond of erecting on every crag and hilltop, always with a religious significance. It was originally a convent, built by Dom Manuel, for the Jeronymites of Belem, and was a watch-tower for this monarch, from which he looked out day by day and hour after hour to see Vasco de Gama return from his voyage of discovery round the Cape of Good Hope in 1497. When the convents were suppressed it was purchased by a private gentle-man, who soon sold it to the late king D. Fernando, who bequeathed it to the Countess Edla, from whom it has been recovered by the present king. It is perched upon a peak a thousand feet or more above the plain, and commands a vast view of the sea and the mouth of the Tagus, the lines of Torres Vedras, the great con-vent of Mafra, and a curious landscape of wild and cultivated hill and valley. Around it stands a collection of stony peaks crowned with boulders, which it would seem as if Agassiz’ travelling glaciers could not move. From the towers of the castle the ravines seem to be of unfathomable depth. The surrounding hills are all below you, so high is the castle, and their savage rocky aspect, starting up as they do out of the luxuriant foliage of the valleys, is most impressive. On a peak not far off stands the ruin of a Moorish castle a thou-sand years old, an inaccessible fortress, whose occupants were starved out when Christianity secured its triumph in Portugal. There they stand, the one in its natural beauty looking over upon the desolate ruin of the other, and both representing the folly of ambition and conquest. Pena is full of choice bits of architecture, fine Gothic arches, a picturesque entrance with a drawbridge, a charming little chapel, and frescos and carvings innumerable. Its square and Moorish towers are exceedingly beautiful, and the wall around its bastions startling and confusing. The gardens are filled with tropical plants, shrubs, and trees, and the surrounding forests are grand and luxuriant.

This structure represents Portugal almost as well as any object you will see here, and what it does not rep-resent itself, it will bring before you in the wide range of the horizon about it. Portugal is more remarkable for its extravagances than any other spot on earth. If you want to learn the power of an earthquake you can find it here as nowhere else. If you would study the savagery of war, read the bloody tale which begins with Gothic invasions and Moorish tyranny and cruelty and Castilian murders and Spanish tortures, and continues through the Peninsular wars and the contest for the succession. If you would know the horrors of a plague, read the ravages of the yellow fever in Lisbon. If you desire to know how far human cruelty can go, learn the story of Inez de Castro, and the tale of D. Alfonso VI., and the fate of Beatrice and the Moor, the surrender of Urraca, and that long list of tortures the work of personal revenge and of religious persecutions. If you would see the extravagance of religious devotees and imperial usurpers and robbers and land-grabbers, travel from town to town, and count the churches and castles and convents from Mafra, overlooking the mouth of the Tagus, to the con-fines of the kingdom, and wonder at the reckless waste of treasure and toil. If you wish to see the perfection of the stony deposits of the ice-bound period of the world, visit the entire Iberian peninsula from the Pyrenees to the Straits of Gibraltar, and you will find boulderian nature in all its possible grandeur.

A favorite drive from Cintra brings you to Mafra, a monstrous architectural pile long since deserted, standing in solitary grandeur by the sea, a monument of extravagance and imperial folly, religious enthusiasm and weak ambition. It takes its name from a small village in which stands this Palace, Monastery, and Basilica, a huge building erected in 1717 by D. Jose V., in gratitude to God for the birth of a son, and in fulfillment of a vow he had made that whenever the son was born he would erect a magnificent monastery on the site of the poorest Priory in the kingdom. And this Priory was at Mafra—a hut in which dwelt twelve Arabidos, the poorest order in Portugal. In 1717 was the foundation laid, this ceremony alone costing 200,000 crowns. A daily force of 14,700 workmen was employed thirteen years in the construction ; and during the entire time 45,000 men were engaged in the work. The edifice cost 19,000,000 crowns, and during one day of the eight occupied in the consecration, the king dined 9,000 persons. The length of the wall running north and south is 1,150 feet. There are 866 rooms and 3,200 doors. The roof is so broad that 10,000 men can be reviewed upon it, and it is so solid that a great stone turret, weighing at least a ton and a half, falling from the tower to the roof, a hundred and fifty feet, made no impression whatever on the surface. There are palaces for the king and the queen, a magnificent audience chamber, a church of great beauty, barracks for the soldiers, and a library 300 feet in length containing 30,000 volumes, the oldest of which are illuminated missals of 1450. The chimes of bells are wonderful—sweet in tone, impressive in power. For a hundred and seventy years their great machinery has worked, and is as perfect now as it was the day it was erected. There are two sets of bells, each set weighing two hundred tons, costing one million crowns apiece, and doubled by the extravagant king, when he was reminded that the vast sum of one million crowns would be required to pay for one. This immense building stands on a wide level spot in the midst of a small cluster of houses as remarkable for their humility as the great monastery is for its gloomy greatness. The great front wall, blackened as all old buildings in Europe are, is an accumulation of lofty columns, high massive towers, deep niches ornamented by statues, and all the wealth which architectural ingenuity could pile up in one mountainous structure. The ample front portal opens into a hall, whose walls are adorned with colossal statues of saints and apostles, and it leads into a church of lofty proportions, rich decorations, great arches, and beautiful chapels. From this imposing edifice you pass on through innumerable rooms, some adorned with finely frescoed ceilings, some as white and still and empty as a snow-cave in the arctic,—all opening into each other and making a vista like a great avenue. The vast building running back from this splendid front, with its church and towers and belfries and statues, is no more impressive than the walls of a huge cotton-mill. Its exterior is of a dull yellowish-brown color, its interior contains the hospital with its many stalls, the monastery with its cells for the monks, the great dining-room with its long, heavy tables, and the superb kitchen. You are compelled to admire the well-made Brazil-wood doors, and to wonder at the simple decaying window-shutters. And you wander about and ponder and wait for a group of occupants in vain, and try to people all the solitudes with royal assemblies and devotees and soldiers ; and you listen for echoes of the old revelry and chants and responses. But it is all deserted and still and useless—waiting for time to do its work. Mafra in full blast must have been a scene of military and ecclesiastical glory, such as the world has seldom seen. Now the desolation and repose are awful.

When this monastery was built at Mafra the resources of Portugal were great,—great for her rulers and nobles,—great for a privileged few, and plentiful enough as they now are for the mass of the people. Regardless of the wants of his subjects, indifferent to the necessities of his great empire, the king compelled all people and all industries covered by the Portuguese flag to pay tribute to this reckless and extravagant conceit. And now all industries and people have withdrawn from its presence and left it standing alone. The power of him who built it is gone. The significance of the building has passed away. The object for which it was erected is forgotten, and even if remembered, is considered a piece of weakness and folly. And yet it represents what was once the civil and ecclesiastical power of Portugal, the former of which is in decay, and the latter of which its great minister abolished.

We drove over a wide region of dry hills and valleys occupied by thin wheat-fields and stunted vineyards, where a poverty-stricken people reaped the meagre grain and waited for the small wine crop. There was no luxuriance, all was a low level of civilization, without schoolhouse so far as I could discover, and surely without a town-hall or a meeting-house. I could not help contrasting this scene of poor agriculture and dead society with the fertile fields and pleasant homes and pretty villages where a free and grateful people erect monumental structures for their heroes ; a living and active civilization engaged in paying tribute to those who have made life strong and aspiring. But I abandoned contrast and comparison early, because I am inclined to think that every form of civilization has its purpose, and that the institutions established by one people are as much entitled to respectful contemplation as those established by another. So much for Mafra, its building and its lesson.

August Ist.—We have had our first court reception—not my presentation, which is still delayed on account of the illness of the King ; but a party given in honor of the birthday of Dom Affonso Henriques. The reception was given at Cintra in the royal palace, where the family spend two or three months in midsummer.

The palace is a most interesting and homely old building,—an irregular pile surrounding a large court-yard, and especially conspicuous for its tall conical chimneys and its fragmentary architecture. It was the Alhambra of the Moorish kings and passed from them into the possession of the Christian Portuguese monarchs. The building was completed by Dom Manuel about A.D. 1500, and was his residence when he watched from Pena for the return of Vasco de Gama from his great voyage of discovery. It is famous for many historical events, and is a curious mixture of Christian and Moorish architecture.

The reception was held in the great salon, a large and finely decorated room about fifty feet long by thirty feet wide, with a beautiful frescoed ceiling and with modern doors, which contrast curiously with the ancient type of the walls. We entered this room through a narrow passage between two pillars where guests who expected to be presented to the King gathered. I was introduced by Senhor Barros Gomes, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, to his Majesty, who sat during the reception and offered me a chair by his side. He is a gentleman of taste and talent and culture, speaks well many languages, is a good musician, a first-rate English scholar, and a judicious statesman. My conversation with him was interesting, and we discussed the affairs of his kingdom with allusions to the literature of the United States. He very civilly excused his inability to receive me formally on account of his ill-health, and assured me that the informal interview we were then having would be sufficient to establish my official relations with his government, while my presentation would come hereafter. I was presented to the Queen, Maria Pia, a stylish and anxious woman with a pomp of golden hair, the daughter of Victor Emanuel ; and to the Crown Princess, the wife of Dom Carlos, Marie Amélie d’ Orleans, daughter of the Comte de Paris. The presentation of Mrs. Loring to the Queen was made by Lady Petre, wife of the British Minister, who was the dean of the diplomatic corps, and to the King by Senhor Barros Gomes. I left her conversing with his Majesty while I pursued my substantial English way among ” all English-speaking people ” whom I chanced to meet.

It was not a lively reception, inasmuch as the ladies sat in a solid and impenetrable mass along the side of the room opposite the royal family, while the gentlemen concentrated themselves wherever they could find room in all the dignity of black coats and, in some cases, of knee-breeches. I was agreeably impressed by the Crown Prince, Dom Carlos, the Duke of Braganza, the Infanta, who was making himself generally attentive, and with whom I had an interesting talk about lands and horses ; and also by the Prime Minister, Senhor de Castro, who told Mrs. Loring he had never been out of Portugal, and had never had a fire in his room ; by the Queen’s Chamberlain, the Duke of Loulè, Master of the Horse ; by Duke Albuquerque ; by the Russian, Swedish, Dutch, Austrian, British, and Brazilian ministers ; by the Spanish Secretary, Polo de Barnaby ; by Marchesa de Funchal, Lady-in-waiting to the Queen ; and by Dona Eugenie Nitza, Maid of Honor, a very pretty person descended from Vasco de Gama. The music was given by a fine band, which was stationed in a Moorish court and which discoursed the peculiarly graceful and lively strains for which Portuguese airs are distinguished. The supper was in the famous dining-room whose ceiling is adorned with numerous magpies, bearing in their beaks the motto ” Por Bem,” painted there, by the order of Dom John I., as a rebuke to the gossips of the court, who revelled in the fact that the Queen caught him kissing one of her maids of honor ; and the supper consisted of Consommé de perdrix, Filets de veau à la Portuguese, Roast beef roti à la Chateaubriand, Dindon brochées à la Periqueux, Jam-bon Westphalian, Patés de foix gras, Sandwiches à la Romaine, Ices, and. dry Champagne. The table was handsomely decorated, and the numerous waiters were in red and yellow livery. During the supper the King and Queen remained in the salon, the Princess Amélie having retired at an early hour. All of which items I do most faithfully record.

Hildreth accompanied us to the reception and was much impressed by the dignity of the occasion. He was presented to the King and Queen, and to the Princess Royal, who were most kind and gracious to him.

The entrance to this scene was quite imposing. On each side of the broad staircase leading from the court-yard of the Palace to the interior stood torch-bearers in livery, red and yellow, who lighted the way to the not very imposing hall, and from which you ascended by a winding and narrow staircase of marble, without banister or rail, into the anteroom of the salon.

We had the pleasure yesterday of paying our respects to the Crown Prince and his charming Princess, of whom I have already written. We were met at the gate of the pretty villa in which they reside by a most sturdy gatekeeper who took our cards, and soon returned, indicating that we could enter. We were met also at the door of the villa by the Condessa de Sabugosa, who received us most cordially and admitted us into the presence of the royal pair. The room was large and high, with walls decorated with a light greenish paper ornamented with large figures ; it was modestly furnished, having a few pictures on the wall and round tables on which stood some china flower-pots. The Prince was dressed in a white flannel jacket striped with narrow lines of blue, a white cravat and waistcoat, and white checked pantaloons. He looked cheerful and happy. The Princess was simply attired in a gown of brownish stuff without ornament so far as I could discern. She looked – most sweet and dignified. She is taller than the Prince, as appeared when we entered and found them standing side by side to receive us. While Anna was talking Paris and Lisbon with the Princess, I con-versed with the Prince about his cork-forest, four miles long by three wide, which yields him $20,000 every eight years, the time required to grow a crop of cork-bark ; about his swine, of which he sold $30,000 worth last year ; about the wages paid for labor—25 cents in some places and $1.00 per day in others ; about his arrangement of the Portuguese Exhibition at Paris ; about the agriculture of the country generally ; and about his proposed trip to Paris. We had a most satisfactory interview. The Princess holds her receptions every day at one o’clock.

It was now considered proper that we should be officially received by the Queen, and at two o’clock, on the suggestion of the Marquise de Funchal that we might select our day, we drove to the palace and strolled between files of soldiers up the wide staircase to the Queen’s salon. When we had been admitted through the two huge doors hung on ancient hinges, with ancient knobs and latches, we were received by the Marchesa de Funchal, accompanied by the Dona Nitza de Gama, and the Condessa de San Miguel, with many gentlemen unknown to us. After a short delay we were presented to the Queen by the Duke of Loulè, the Queen’s Chamberlain. She occupied the same sofa on which she sat during the birthday reception. She was alone and was most dignified and attractive in her appearance. She has a pleasant face, tinged with sadness, and lighted by a smile. Our talk was mainly on the health of the King, the antiquity of the palace, the attractions of Paris, and the glories of Worth. The quiet, gentle manner of the Queen reminded me of those admirable old ladies of Salem, now gone, who in their lives never knew the back of a chair, and were models of kindness, dignity, and sincerity. We retired from her presence with our respect for her good qualities greatly increased.