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VII CINTRA
I had often before seen Caldas in the height of the bathing season, when the midsummer heat made Lisbon intolerable and inspired people with more or less imaginary maladies to get cured. The place then, with its crowds of visitors and pleasant parties, was bright and lively enough; but now that the last pleasure-seeker had fled, and the only people taking the wonderful health-giving waters were the few really sick, and the inmates of the great “Queen’s hospital” adjoining the hot springs, Caldas looked mean and ugly. The drives through the pine forests in the neighbourhood, it is true, are pleasant; but for a fortnight I had been passing through a glorious pine country much more diversified and elevated than these, and Caldas had no fresh attractions to offer me. A visit to the famous factory of enamelled faience, charmingly situated in the 200midst of gardens, yielded an hour’s interest in the inspection of the late Bordallo Pinheiro’s fine sacred figure groups now in course of production for the shrines at Bussaco, and the hundred curious Palissy-like pieces in high relief, plates of fruit, fish, &c., which are the specialty of the factory. But that being finished the charms of Caldas were exhausted, so far as I was concerned, and the train for Cintra claimed me irresistibly.

The first station from Caldas (Obidos), with its little town, nestles at the foot of an eminence upon which another of the stupendous medi?val castles peculiar to Portugal rears its massive battlements, castles in comparison with which most of the English feudal strongholds are mere sentry-boxes. For these Portuguese fortresses were national outposts thrust forward successively into conquered or debatable land; bases for further extension southward and bulwarks against the return of the tide of Islam. Another two hours of travelling brought us into a country of red rolling hills, with a bold granite ridge on the east and a still loftier ridge beyond merging into the blue mist on the horizon. For miles on either side grand sweeps of flowering heather 201flushed against breaks and slides of ochre-earth, touched here and there with the light feathery green of the pines; whilst in the dips of hills sheltered valleys of bronzing vines and little white granges, slept tranquilly after the bustle of the just finished vintage. Soon we get nearer the granite hills before us, and looming over the station, upon a great projecting spur of one of these there frowns another of these tremendous strongholds, from which, running towards the east and south between us and Lisbon, there bars the way a series of gigantic ridges and peaks. Most of the heights are capped by towers, and scored along the faces of the mountains may still be discerned lines and marks of earthworks and redoubts. These are the never-to-be-forgotten lines of Torres Vedras, by which the genius of Wellington finally held the legions of Napoleon at bay, and saved Portugal—and incidentally Europe—from the domination of the French.

All the earth seems soaked and saturated in sunlight and brilliant colour; little ancient towns, like Runa, perched on the tops of cliffs, at the foot of which more modern hamlets cluster, testify to the changed conditions between the 202days when the first need was safety from aggression, and the later times when, the danger of wanton attacking being past, men sought accessibility and ease. Acacias, aloes, canes, olives, and vines spreading down the plain, tell of a benign and equable climate enjoyed in security and peace; a beautiful and favoured land, where nature has done its best to make man happy without making him idle. As the twilight begins to fall we change trains at Cacem, the junction of the small local line from Lisbon to Cintra, and thenceforward we travel due west towards the sea. Before us looms a great isolated mountain, the “Rock of Lisbon,” which seafarers know so well, with its bold outline and its gleaming towers on the topmost crag.
“And Cintra’s mountain greets them on the way.”
—Childe Harold, canto i.

The “mountain of the moon,” and of its goddess Cynthia, devoted from the dawn of time to the worship of deities that, one by one, have been deposed, this long-backed hummock, stretching nearly fifteen miles from end to end and rising well-nigh two thousand feet above the plain, is one of Europe’s acknowledged beauty spots, and, like a human professional beauty, on this 203occasion coyly hid its charms from too ready a discovery by cloaking its summit with a cloud as black as ink, forerunner of the coming night. The gradient of the line continues upward as we wind round the base of the hill, and it is quite dark when the terminal station of Cintra is reached, and after a long drive upward the quaint little English hostelry, known to four generations of Britons, welcomes me to dinner and to rest.

Like the similar mountain of Bussaco, the “Rock of Lisbon” is scored by ravines and dells innumerable, sheltered valleys open to the soft sea-breezes charged with grateful moisture; and from time immemorial the luxuriance and variety of its vegetation have been proverbial. At a time when Lisbon, only some fifteen miles away, is sweltering and breathless within its south facing semicircle of hills, the slopes of the mountain of Cintra are fresh and invigorating, and some of its gardens are a veritable paradise all the year round. But beautiful as it undoubtedly is, Cintra owes much of its fame to its nearness and accessibility to the capital, and so far as English celebrity is concerned, to the accident of several influential Englishmen persistently 204singing its praises at a time when Lisbon was a fashionable winter and health resort.

The village of Cintra lies in one of the folds of the great hill, at perhaps a third of its height up the side: a little Swiss-looking pleasure-town round an open pra?a, like a set scene upon a stage. A few hotels and shops, a church, the inevitable big stone building at the most conspicuous corner, with the heavily barred windows on the level of the footpath, and the squalid prisoners begging and bandying repartee with the passers-by: at one end of the pra?a, a lovely ancient Manueline cross upon a palm-shaded mound, at the base of which a picturesque group is usually lounging, and close by, the courtyard of an old, old palace whose most conspicuous features are two curious protruberances from the roof, looking like a cross between Kentish oast-houses, and giant champagne bottles. This is Cintra as seen from its central point, but over it all there towers that which gives unique distinction to its otherwise somewhat trite, self-conscious picturesqueness. Sheer aloft upon a precipice a thousand feet and more above its roofs there stretch the mighty battlements and massive keeps of a huge castle of fawn-coloured stone, a castle so immense as to dwarf Thomar, Leiria, and even Obidos almost to insignificance. Long lines of crenellated walls following the dips and sinuosities of the crest of the peak appear to grow out of the mighty rounded boulders; some of these great masses of rock seeming to hang over perilously—as they must have done for thousands of years—top-heavy and threatening.

THE OLD PALACE, CINTRA.

205To climb such an eminence looks impracticable when seen from the pra?a of the little town, and yet it is but a pleasant and easy walk up the zigzag road round the projecting shoulder of the hill. As I start in the early morning to ascend the two twin peaks, only one of which is visible from the pra?a, the air is indescribably sweet with the mingled freshness of the sea and the perfume of herbs and flowers. The way winds upwards between the trim walls of villas embosomed in gardens. Ampelopsis, blood-red now, long trails of wistaria and starry clematis, and large fuchsia trees loaded with flower, hang over the pathway everywhere, whilst masses of heliotrope clothe the jutting gables and corners, and pervading all are the scent and sight of oceans of flowers. Palms, planes, poplars, and firs shoot upward, and around their straight bare trunks there clusters a tangle 206of figs, laurels, mimosa, camellias, aloes, and cactus. On the outer side of the road, as the villas are left behind, you may look over the dwarf-wall down the tree-clad slopes into glens of deep shade, with here and there a glimpse through the branches of a vast sunlight plain far below, whilst on the inner side of the zigzag way, the mosses and ferns, and the pendent greenery of the precipitous hillside, with an occasional break into a deep ravine, exhibit at each turn and step some new beauty of tint or atmosphere. Presently at a turn of the road, after half-an-hour’s climb, you see right over head the bare granite cliff covered with huge overhanging boulders, and on the summit a long stretch of yellow battlements and a huddle of enormous towers. The trees around us are mostly oaks now, and the grey boulders are covered on their inner faces with ivy and lichens, whilst clumps of purple crocuses star the grass by the wayside. The sun is as hot as July in England, but the breeze is delightfully fresh and pure, the sky of spotless azure, and the air so clear that the ancient fortress, still far above us, is seen in all its detail as if we had it near to us under a giant microscope.

207Suddenly as I turned a corner there burst upon my view another and a loftier peak than the one upon which stands the Moorish stronghold that had hitherto been my objective. A crag so inaccessible it looked, as to suggest that the imposing building upon it with its lofty towers was the work of a magician. The royal palace of the Penha is this, piled up rather than built upon a sheer precipice.[2] Here upon the highest point of the rock of Lisbon was King Manuel the Fortunate wont to linger for hours and days for many months together, climbing up from his palace in the town below, that he might gaze far out upon the Atlantic, watching and praying for the return of Vasco da Gama from his voyage to India round the African continent, 208the route that in two generations the impetus of Prince Henry the Navigator had opened up. There was but a tiny Jeronomite hermitage or penitentiary here in this savage eyrie to shelter the anxious king,[3] and during his vigils he vowed that if the great explorer came home successful he would build upon the spot a worthy monastery of the Order in memory of the event. The work must have been a prodigious one, for even now the place is hardly accessible by carriages, and the quantity and the weight of material necessarily brought from below was enormous. This monastery like the rest, was disestablished and secularised by the State in 1834, and King Ferdinand, the consort of the Queen of Portugal, and a first cousin of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, bought the building for conversion into a royal palace, as it remains to-day, and here he lived the latter years of his life with his second wife, the ex-opera-dancer, the Countess of Edla. 209Ferdinand altered his palace, in many cases with very doubtful taste, Moorish and German baronial features being liberally grafted on to the Manueline edifice, with the result that the whole building when seen closely is a pretentious muddle, saved from contempt by some of its ancient portions, and by its sublime situation.

The palace on the peak was soon lost to sight again on my climb upward, and the path led direct to the outer donjon of the Moorish stronghold opening upon a narrow path cut along the face of the rock, and bordered on the outer side by a low stone wall. The view down over the steep, rocky slope, with the town of Cintra far below, and the plain limitless beyond, is very fine, and the walls that border the path are clothed with mosses and ferns almost as lovely as those of Bussaco. The fortress must have been impregnable by force; and indeed was only gained at last from the Moors by treason, this very gate having been bought by the Christians from an unfaithful guardian. This narrow path cut on the face of the precipice is the only practicable approach to the fortress, and leads soon to yet another gate flanked by a strong tower built upon one vast, solid boulder. The dells below are 210filled with billows of verdure; the face of the rock on the inner side of the path is covered with creepers, ferns, and flowers, whilst above them, high up in the dips near the summit, great trees lean over, shading the way by which we come. Yet another strong gate tower we pass through; and with a sudden turn we are inside the fortress, on the right of us a ruined chapel, once a mosque, and on the left a watch-tower, with, at its foot, a monument upon which the cross is graven surmounting the crescent, emblematical of the fate of the adjoining chapel.

To describe in detail this prodigious ruin would be impossible in any reasonable space. The summit of the crag consists of two separate peaks at some distance from each other, the higher one occupied by the main keep, “the royal tower,” and long battlemented walls reach from one point to the other, with bastions at intervals and massive square keeps at the salient angles. On all sides within the great enclosure formed by the battlements, covering the whole summit, remains of towers and buildings of various sorts are scattered, amidst the dense growth of trees and brushwood that have intruded upon the space. The battlements, many of them built upon the rounded 211boulders that border the precipice and following the contour of the hill top, are strong and perfect still; and it needs but little imagination to people them again with the turbaned and mailed warriors, sheltered snugly behind them, watching for the advancing hosts of the Christian king, certain that, so long as Islam was true to itself, no force could take this stronghold of their race. The view over the battlements on all sides is tremendous. Just below the walls a Titanic scatter of boulders, varying in size from a few feet in diameter to the bulk of a cathedral, and then the descending folds of greenery, with the sunlit plains and clustering towns below; and there on the west, seemingly almost at the foot, a long stretch of breaker-strewn beach, and the blue line of the sea. The view on the Cintra side is almost appalling, the drop from the battlements and boulders to the town being almost sheer, and on the south-east a great bay opens, and the mouth of the Tagus bounds the prospect.

As I gazed, entranced at this wonderful scene, surrounded by yet sturdy relics of the war of civilisations eight centuries old; musing upon the immutability of nature’s face in comparison with even the most enduring works of man, I 212noticed a wire fixed on the face of the Moorish battlement, and thence to a boulder, and so from point to point, I know not whither—to the palace or the adjoining peak, perhaps. A telegraph wire! A familiar object enough, but, as it seemed to me, strangely out of harmony with the stern battlements from which for centuries the sons of the prophet held back the advance of Western civilisation.

The point upon which the Moorish stronghold stands is connected with the higher site of the palace by a saddle-back dipping considerably and then rising very precipitously. The vegetation on all sides is marvellously luxuriant, and inside the well-kept gardens of the royal domain flowers and plants, temperate and sub-tropical, make the place a horticultural paradise. Through graceful Moorish archways, bright with Alambresque decorations and azulejos, under rocky tunnels and over medi?val drawbridges, all redolent of the gimcrack taste of the forties, the upward way leads at length to the little inner patio of the castle, and here, at last, some of the Manueline monastery still remains. It is little enough, a window here and a door there, and is almost swamped by modern Alambresque and German 213baronial additions, but the ancient chapel in the patio is a gem. The beautiful groined ceiling especially attracts attention, but the pride of the place is the exquisite altar of translucent alabaster or jasper and black marble in the purest style of the classical Renaissance, dated 1532, a thank-offering of King John III. for the birth of an heir. The many groups of figures in alabaster are extremely beautiful, and as the whole structure turns upon a pivot the perfection of the work can be seen in various lights. A concession to the Portuguese Manueline taste of the time is made by the pendent festoons on each side of the altar, which are formed of two lengths of knotted and twisted cable in alabaster, a tour de force of execution, though rigid purists may perhaps question their artistic appropriateness.

The chapel is marred by the hard, bright German stained glass inserted in the principal window by King Ferdinand; but the modern Portuguese is very far from being critical in matters of art, and though hundreds of people yearly toil up the mountain to venerate the holy image of the Virgin of the Penha in this chapel, and the lovely ivory figure of St. John in the sacristy, no one apparently thinks of removing 214the flashing offence of the stained glass window in favour of some subdued medium more appropriate to this beautiful little church. A climb to the highest tower of the palace is said to be rewarded by a magnificent view. I was content to take it on trust, for I had already climbed high enough, and could hardly hope to behold a more striking prospect than those I had enjoyed from the castle battlements, and from the inner patio of the palace itself, which is perhaps the most striking of them all.

As I retrace my steps down the long zigzags to Cintra again, and ever and anon look up at the heights from which I have come, they seem quite inaccessible. Equally, or more so, does the somewhat lower, but even more precipitous eminence called the Cruz Alta, from which the prospect is of surpassing extent over land and sea.
“Eis campinas que ao ceo seu canto elevam,
Aqui o espa?o, alem a immens............
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