The Quinta da Regaleira in Sintra, Portugal, is both masterpiece and folly. It is a fairytale landscape, with its hidden lagoons and twisting towers, but you just can’t quit the feeling that there’s something sinister under the surface. Maybe it’s those tunnels that stretch beneath the grounds, or maybe it’s the way nature has been allowed to obscure so many of its structures, revealing them only in glimpses until you are mere yards away and confronted by their baffling majesty.
Built by Antonio Augusto de Carvalho Monteiro between 1895 and 1911, the mansion and grounds are riddled with occult symbols with ties to alchemy, the Knights Templar and the Masons. For one the grounds themselves were designed in the shape of a pentagram. The designer, in fact, was Luigi Manini, not only an architect but also a set-designer—no surprise as strolling through the grounds feels like wandering a lost corner of an epic film.
The place evokes a dark wonder, less butterfly than moth, but equally beautiful. The grounds also inspire stories at every turn, but each of them necessarily tinged with darkness.
The hunting motif that decorates the dining hall, for example, brings to mind not fox hunts and startled pheasants but the Most Dangerous Game. Though he was surely a perfectly fine man, let your imagination wander, and it becomes all too easy to imagine Monteiro strolling the grounds of his Quinta da Regaleira, a rifle slung over one shoulder, as terror-stricken servants or rivals run from him, stumble along winding trails, crash through grasping greenery, fall screaming into roiling lagoons.
I tried to collect a few images that might give at least an impression of the dark beauty that comprises the Quinta da Regaleira but, to be honest, I can’t say they truly do the place justice. It’s just one of the things you have to see and experience for yourself.