PARK OF PENA
The Park and the Palace of Pena were envisaged and devised by King Ferdinand II, king consort of Portugal and a prince of Central European origin. His concept radically transformed the landscape of Sintra into what we see today, and which was classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1995.
Work started in 1839 with the renovation of a ruined and abandoned Hieronymite monastery surrounded by extensive grounds, which ultimately became the Park and Palace of Pena: an epic, unique and consummate creation on a par with the great Romantic parks of Europe. Recognised as the supreme expression of Romanticism in Portugal, Pena is King Ferdinand II’s vision of the perfect retreat brought to life, evoking the Artist King’s childhood memories of the parks of Wörlitz, Muskau and Rosenau. Conforming to the Romantic Movement, which was very popular in Europe at the time, these great nineteenth-century parks gave an artificial impression of nature in its pristine state, enhanced by cliffs, waterfalls and lush vegetation, and with temples scattered through the gardens.
A new mind-set had emerged in Europe – one that valued close contact with nature – and developing alongside it was the concept of the park as a place to experience proximity to the natural world. The very act of moving through such a park was steeped in, and fostered, a sense of the origins of humanity’s identity. There was therefore no room for symmetry, order or straight lines, and the natural growth of vegetation was encouraged. William Gilpin (1724–1804), who coined the term “picturesque”, argued in his A Dialogue upon the Gardens at Stowe that a park should be artistically laid out and developed so that nature could flurish in its setting as if in an unspoiled wilderness. In his work Andeutungen über Landschaftsgärtnerei (Suggestions on Landscape Gardening), Prince Hermann von Pückler-Muskau (1785–1871), the creator of Muskau Park and author of an extensive collection of reflections on this new philosophy of landscaping, praises “nature, free, but in its most noble form” and describes his idea of perfection in park design: “a perfect park, or, in other words, one that has been conceived through Art, should, as a good book, awaken at least as many thoughts and feelings as it reveals.”
Parks were thus spaces in which to lose oneself, only to find oneself again through sensitivity and intuition. According to the creator of Muskau, “paths are the travellers’ silent guides, and should serve to guide them effortlessly to discover all the delights that the place has to offer.” These “silent guides”, together with other almost subliminal elements of the landscape such as views, architectural elements and hidden nooks stimulate visitors’ curiosity and invite them to stroll along the park’s main paths and then lose themselves in its interior. Water, on the other hand, was considered “the soul of the landscape” and a catalyst for walkers’ introspection and perceptiveness, allowing them finally to discover their true selves.
According to Hirschfeld, who coined the term “Romantic” in 1797, the main quality of a garden is its ability to arouse feelings as visitors move through the spaces comprising it, so that as they follow the paths and trails, different settings unfold and evolve, triggering a succession of different emotions. As one walks through the Park of Pena, it positively invites the discovery of enigmatic secluded locations and buildings, framed by a wide variety of landscaped settings made up of exotic botanical collections and floral composition reminiscent of distant lands. Scattered in apparent disorder, one encounters areas of amazing beauty lying as if half-hidden by veils which part to let the chosen ones discover them (Hirschfeld’s notion of “veiled beauty”: die verschleierte Schönheit), and then dark woods that arouse primal fears (der Walddunkel), with each setting evoking different feelings.