From Ruin to Romantic Icon

Set in the lush and enchanting landscape of Sintra, Portugal, is the Palace of Monserrate, a jewel of the 19th century Romantic era adorned with Indian, Italian, Moorish and Neo-Gothic styles. Over the centuries, Monserrate has become a retreat for writers and a source of inspiration for travellers.

Even in a neglected state, the palace inspired none other than the romantic poet Lord Byron himself in his poem “The Pilgrimage of Childe Harold”.

The site was abandoned several times before Sir Francis Cook (1817-1901), a British trader and art collector, bought Monserrate and turned it into a lavish villa with a 3,000-acre botanical garden. In 1858 he commissioned father and son architects Thomas James Knowles Sr. and Jr. to restore and expand the palace.

The ornate architecture is said to be influenced by the Duomo in Florence, Italy; the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain; and the Brighton Pavilion in Brighton, England. The interior is surprisingly exotic, with Moorish arches and columns, Italian Gothic arches, a marble fountain, pink and blue marble floors, and Renaissance carvings. This eclectic architecture is typical of 19th century Romanticism and showcases Cook’s passion for the arts.

The romantic beauty doesn’t stop inside. The park, designed by landscape designer William Stockdale and Kew Gardens’ chief gardener, James Burt, is home to rare plant species from around the world.

Sir Francis’ restoration elevated Monserrate to a romantic work of art. In 1995, Monserrate became part of the UNESCO Sintra Hills, called a World Heritage Cultural Landscape. In 2010, the palace was restored to its former glory and continues to inspire visitors from around the world.

One of Monserrate’s lush gardens. The waterfall was already there when Lord Byron visited in 1809 and was enchanted by the natural beauty of Monserrate. The waterfall was commissioned by British writer William Beckford, author of the gothic novel ‘Vathek’, who was a tenant at Monserrate before he gave up the land and Sir Francis Cook bought the site. (EMIGUS/Sintra and Monte de Lua Parks)
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The Indian arch in Monserrate Park shows eclectic architectural influences. The ornamental arch was acquired in India by Sir Francis Cook himself, an avid art collector. (José Marques Silva/Sintra and Monte de Lua Parks)
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Monserrate Palace has several entrances, and this one clearly represents the neo-Gothic and Moorish influences of the palace, with detailed arches and columns. Exoticism blends classical influences with the eastern facade, tropical flora and fauna and decorative fountain. (Luis Duarte/Sintra and Monte de Lua Parks)
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Next to the main entrance to the palace, columns and arches support the round cupolas. The flowers and plants carved atop the columns evoke nature, a beloved theme of Romanticism. Behind these Moorish columns is the finely carved entrance door. The detailed tile (in Portuguese “Azulejo”) next to the entrance is of Moorish influence and also honors Portuguese architecture, which was heavily influenced by the Moors. (Luis Duarte/Sintra and Monte de Lua Parks)
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The gallery reminds visitors of the Alhambra palace in Granada, Spain. The foliage motifs and the arcatures represent the continuity between the interior and the exterior, the exterior style reproducing the interior style. There are no doors in the palace, which allowed the Cook family and their guests to enjoy the house informally, as there are no barriers between the guest rooms and the family rooms. (EMIGUS/Sintra and Monte de Lua Parks)
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The colorful cupola (the domed ceiling) bathes the central atrium in light and also reminds visitors of the romantic character of Gothic architecture with its octagonal shape. Arches, stained glass, carvings and foliage patterns are typical of Moorish architecture. (Luis Duarte/Sintra and Monte de Lua Parks)
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The central atrium was a place where the Cook family and their guests crossed paths, as it connects the public and private rooms of the palace. Natural beauty is showcased in the sparkling water feature, the light-filled upper cupola and the beautifully carved plant motifs on the walls. The eclectic architecture combines Moorish wood carvings and Italian marble to create a romantic style. (Luis Duarte/Sintra and Monte de Lua Parks)
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When Francis Cook stayed in his sumptuous villa, he worked in the library, the only room with a door. The beautifully carved doorway, arches, ceilings and walls are Gothic Revival, a style that Romantic architects loved to incorporate. (Luis Duarte/Sintra and Monte de Lua Parks)
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Cook was an admirer of fine rooms, as the Great Music Room shows. This room was used for socializing and entertaining for the Cook family and their guests. Today, this room is used for concerts for its acoustic qualities as well as the beautiful view of the gardens. At the base of the dome, the plaster busts of Saint Cecilia, the Muses and Apollo symbolize music through the ages. (Luis Duarte/Sintra and Monte de Lua Parks)
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A detail of the bust of Saint Cecilia, patroness of music, at the base of the dome of the music room. Architectural elements are combined with relief carvings to express the physical and symbolic beauty of the romantic palace. (José Marques Silv/Sintra and Monte de Lua Parks)

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