When in the year 1581 Philip II of Spain took possession of Portugal, he wrote to his daughters about the beauty of the gardens in his new province with something like envy. All that Nature so seldom granted, especially to Castile, and then only after much diligent care had been spent, was poured out only too generously in Portugal. The narrow strip of coastland is watered by the great rivers which are not even navigable till they have left Spain, and the mountains lie open to the invigorating western sea breezes. Portugal's wide river valleys, the level table-land, and the mountain slopes, are all alike attractive for villa building and the making of gardens, and the fortunate land offers the most favourable conditions for many sorts of vegetation. Portugal, like other countries, has had to make use of foreign ideas and foreign art to supplement the gifts of Nature. Unfortunately what we learn from literature is too poorly supported by old pictures to help us to a clear notion of how the art developed. All we get from the remains of the past that bears upon our subject is the evidence that certain plans were worked out and then consistently adhered to— plans which are not found so firmly imprinted in the history of any other country.
The cross-roads of the monasteries are very extensively used for gardens at an early date. The royal court at Batalha is mediaeval, and the garden site still preserved with its five beautiful fountains may have been just the same in the sixteenth or even the fifteenth century. It differs in beauty, but otherwise is not very unlike other garden courts of the time in essentials of style. The courts in actual Renaissance days seem to have had more sides to them. In the court of San Francisco at Evora there are boxes placed in the figure of a star and making a pretty pattern with the paths, and a fountain in the centre. The small walls are covered with tiles. Nowadays places of the kind are still called alegretes, in Portuguese, which may be translated pleasure-gardens. The expression was used as early as Philip II.’s time, for he writes to his daughters in July 1581 : “ There are little gardens here in different parts, which are not bad, and are called alegretes. We will get the plans of them.” One may suppose there was a likeness to the giardini secreti of the Italians ; but perhaps the only idea was to show some fixed design in the laying out, like that found at Evora.
In one of his letters soon after, Philip particularly admires the monastery garden at Sintra, the Penha Longa, which took its name from the long rock on which it was built, "They are pretty, and there are numbers of them; there are lovely fountains which I should like to bring away with me." Much is still told of these gardens enclosed by walls beside the monastery, and of a grotto near a fountain that was paved with flags, and other things of the kind. One of the finest cloister courts of Portugal, perhaps of the whole world, is the great court of the cloister at Belem on the outskirts of Lisbon, the chief creation and the best beloved one of the fortunate King Manuel. This court, with an indifferent garden at present, had an unusual one until 1830. The fountain now on the north-west of the court made the centre piece of an island, which was connected by bridges with four others. All of these were in the same pond, which had the shape of a star. The high perpendicular banks were covered with tiles, and the islands were laid out as gardens. Similar to this was the court of Santa Cruz at Coimbra; here there were little chapels on the islands which were round a rotunda of open pillars; these also were united by bridges. Small canals emerged from the pond, and in the extra corners there were hedges and beds. These cloister courts have a certain relationship with the court of the Escorial. But they are not only prior in time, they are also superior in the luxuriance and delicate treatment of the whole garden arrangements.
Of the non-clerical buildings, the villas and their gardens, one treasure has been left from the first half of the seventeenth century, in the property that Dom João de Castro, the great Viceroy of the Indies, made and called Penha Verde. The simple house stands close to the slope of the Serra, not far from Sintra. The garden, in front of the castle, is a geometrical parterre. What is best worth noticing is the park, which opens behind the house, and has several little chapels in it. At the highest point, half concealed in rock, is the beautiful rotunda of the Mary Chapel, with a ruined arcade round it. The entrance to this small place, lying among lovely trees, is by a door with Sanscrit inscriptions on it. In the middle of this space stands a tombstone which states that here rests the heart of Dom Jogo after the work that in life he devoted to his fatherland. The park seemed wonderful to contemporaries because of the number of foreign plants it contained, brought home by de Castro from his travels, and falling in thus with the botanical interests of the period. His biographer relates that he had the fruit-bearing trees removed from this place (which the king had given him as a reward for his services) in order that he might gain nothing useful from it. A marked feature in the decoration of Portuguese architecture and gardens is the use of tiles, originally blue but afterwards of different-coloured materials. Here, as in Spain, they were a legacy of Moorish art, but in Portugal the use of them was more widespread and endured for a longer time. These tiles they particularly liked (as we saw in the cloister courts) for the basins, where the reflections gave a variegated effect. So the peculiar treat- ment of such basins gave a national character to the Portuguese gardens of the sixteenth century. In the first villa that clearly shows Italian influence in Portugal, the country place of Bacalhao, a charming specimen has been preserved: Quinta di Bacalhôa. The founder was the natural son and sole heir of the great Admiral Albuquerque. As quite a young man this Alfonso travelled in Italy in 1521 1fl the train of Donna Brites, when she came to Savoy as the duke’s bride. From Villafranca, near Nice, where they landed, the Portuguese gentlemen made a journey to Italy, and there Alfonso had his eyes opened and his taste formed when he saw the pictures of Italian art. Thus when later he bought this property from the Infante and built his castle he chose Italian styles, but his garden showed his own individual taste as well as a combination of Spanish and Italian. The house is approached through a court flanked by pavilions and includes a little giardino secreto. which we ought to call an alegrete. This part is at one corner of a very large terrace (Fig. 304), 160 by 156 metres.
At the opposite corner there is a large sunk basin about thirty metres long, shut in by walls, against one of which stands a hall con- structed with three pavilions (Fig. 305), the rest of it covered with tiles and terracotta busts. At the other corners are two little pavilions, and below there is a second terrace of the same size, both of them at the present time used for fruit and vineyard gardens, Whether the upper terrace, which shows a rather narrow band running along the wall and somewhat raised, was formerly intended as a flower parterre, must remain uncertain. The ground was very large for that time, and one cannot suppose there were no fountains in connection with it, but they must have entirely perished. Anyhow the whole place, cistern and house alike, has no predecessor similar to it either in Spain or in Italy.
The basin with walls and tiles that lies the whole length of the little castle of Bibafria, near Cintra, reminds us more of Italy—of Madama, Palazzo del Te, and Petraia. The windows of the best rooms open on the water, and on the narrow side of the basin there is a pretty summer-house, and below this is the garden.
A real treasure is the Villa Bemfica (Palácio de Fronteira). It lies in the lovely valley of Alcantara, which has ever been a spot beloved by the Portuguese nobility. Here the Marquez de Fronteira, friend and contemporary of the poet Luis de Sousa, built himself a summer-house which was very much enlarged in the eighteenth century, though it still kept the style of the seventeenth when it was first put up. The garden is laid out in geometrical beds, mostly square, confined by box, with flowers and dwarf palms intermixed (Fig. 306).
Among these one finds some fine clipped box, in the form of cones and spheres. Five fountains, one of them in the crossways, indicate the design of the parterre, which is adorned with statues in every corner. Here too, however, the eye is arrested by something new and strange, basin lying at the side, which occupies nearly the whole length of the garden (Fig. 307).
In the water stand stand two statues, and there are two little flowery islands in it, while the high wall that supports a narrow terrace is articulated with three doors, between which are twelve panels with the figures of knights made in faience.
The wall of the narrow upper terrace has no plants, but is decorated with plaques and also has five niches containing the portrait busts of Portuguese kings. The niches are coated with red enamel, and between them are terracotta ornaments of many colours in the style of Robbia. On the balustrades there are statues, and the terraces are flanked right and left by small turret-like summer-houses. The basin itself is separated from the garden by a balustrade, and we reach the upper terrace by steps at the side. The place reminds one of Villa Madama in Rome, but the whole ornamentation of the basin is of Portuguese origin. A second wall close to the house is similarly adorned, for we find again the plaques of faience, with statues between them, and above are hanging fruits and medallions : in the ground in front a shell is placed, from which we should perhaps infer that there used to be a fountain.
Above all other things these large basins, generally by the side of high walls, are characteristic of the Portuguese garden of this period. The surroundings of a large basin that is set above imposing terraces at the Quinta da Ramalhâo, a place belonging to the eighteenth century, is very individual. When the Infante Dom Pedro, who in the year 1750 became Pedro III., built a castle and added a park to it, it was naturally dubbed the Portuguese Versailles by his contemporaries. But in spite of the fact that a French architect built Queluz, the influence of the French style was so slight that this royal castle was entirely of the Renaissance type (FIG. 308).
Palácio Nacional de Queluz is situated two miles to the north-west of Lisbon, and the river by its side is admitted into the garden. The river bed and the bridges are laid with tiles, and this has a brightening effect on all the vegetation south of them. In the main axis of the house there is a garden court, which is flanked at the entrance to the grand parterre by statues of knights. A water tower stands at the end with a cascade, and the cross-axis of the parterre leads to the bridge over the stream. At the side by the river where the valley takes a downward slope, there is a terrace like a hanging garden at an obtuse angle formed by the castle wall. An important set of stairs leads to the low-lying parts of the garden. At this juncture, when all eyes were directed to France, Portugal held firmly to her own traditions. The place has now gone wild, and the statues are partly overthrown.
Another scheme for the garden that the Baroque period perfected in Italy made its own peculiar deviation in Portugal: in a long series of lofty monasteries the “stations” were developed into wonderful water stairways. The cloister of Bussaco (or Bucaco), in its fine park full of tall cedars, is the first example of a place of this kind (Fig. 310).
Straight steps led from platform to platform on both sides of a watercourse which was enclosed in tufa and arranged in a zigzag pattern, with a bridge also edged with tufa put across each platform. Between the steps the water fell in little streamlets, ending in a basin, the uppermost one being filled from the well-house above. In former days this had heen the entrance to the old cloister. The rule of the foundation enjoined that "hereby this retreat shall for all time
be made pleasant and in accordance with the law, so that the prior each year plant trees whereof he may remove none and cut down none without the consent given of the chapter.” Pope Urban added a bull excommunicating any persons who committed a crime against the trees in the “forbidden preserve.” Bussaco did not, however, remain sanctified, for modern hotels have pushed a way into the place of the ancient monastery. Still, the beautiful garden picture of a stairway once devoted to religious worship is there today in the wood that towers high even now in its grandeur, spared through many centuries (Fig. 309).
In a still nobler way such stairs adorn two cloisters, Braga and Lamego, which were founded in the eighteenth century. The first, Bom Jesus do Monte, has suffered the same fate as Bussaco. It has become a place for open-air cure, and the quiet of the cloister has been lost in hotels and new buildings of every kind. But the stairway of the “stations”
FIG. 311. BRAGA, BOM JESUS DO MONTE—STEPS OF THE “STATIONS”
(Fig. 311) which lies in the old park still full of wonderful trees, shows the pomp and pride in which the Church loved to be arrayed at that date. The stairs rise in a zigzag on both sides of the water, with two chapels flanking them below. To right and left the stairway, which goes straight up to the first stage, has two pillars ringed round like snakes, and possibly at one time water trickled down these as at the Villa Aldobrandini at Frascati. The platforms themselves are decorated with ornaments, statues, niches, and fountains, and on both sides there are narrow ribbons of flowers. On the highest terrace, which has the cathedral with its two towers at the top, the stairs are of a semicircular shape and fit round a niche at the summit. This charming picture, which makes the path for those who aspire to grace abondant en tout plaisir, has served as an example to other less ambitious places.
The Monastery of Nossa Senhora dos Remedios at Lamego was founded in the last third of the eighteenth century. The stairway is very similar to the one at Braga, in that it is cut out of the hillside. The nine stopping-places on the steps were all furnished with chapels, and the kind of ornamentation for each individual stopping-place was copied from Braga. The lower end was formed by, a wall with a high rounded niche. Thus the little country had no style of its own that would work out into further development, but it had a number of important ideas both firmly expressed and persistent. France, towards which we now turn our eyes, is the country whose destiny it was to free herself, with an art that was born at home and was truly vigorous, from subjection to the vogue of Italy, and soon to become Italy’s most formidable rival.