Tuesday, 17 February 2009
Giuseppe Marco Antonio Baretti
"The road between Mafra and Cintra is still such as it was after the flood when the waters subsided, and I alighted twenty times from my chaise for fear of being overturned. I saw on both sides the road in many places many stone-blocks and marble-columns, as the quarries are there that have furnished the materials for the Royal Convent. It was dark when I reached Cintra, and my Negro took me to the English Inn ; so called because it is chiefly kept up by a society of Englifh merchants, who go thither from Lisbon either upon pleasure or to buy up oranges and lemons. When those merchants are there, they get the best rooms, and with a very good reason, as they have fitted it themselves for their own reception.
It happen'd that the whole house was full on my arrival, and as it was too late to procure any lodging, I was obliged to sleep upon the mentioned piece of canvas in a neighbouring house. But on my return from the Cork-convent the merchants were gone, and I had an excellent bed.
It is now time to tell you, that, before the earthquake, Cintra was very well worth a visit. A royal palace was there which is now almoft destroyed. They say that it was many centuries ago one of the country-seats of the Moorish Kings that wrested Portugal and Spain from the hands of the Vandals, who had themselves wrested both countries from those of the Romans. Moorish or not Moorish, I see by its ruins, as well as by what remains standing, that it was once a great palace. There are still three of its halls to be feen. The ceiling of each is divided into little spaces that have animals painted in them. But each ceiling had but one animal allotted towards its ornament ; and thus one contains nothing else but so many swans, the other nothing else but stags, and the third nothing else but magpyes. An odd tafte of decoration, especially as the fwans, the stags, and magpyes are uniform, and the posture of each the same as that of the next. Each swan has a golden chain round his neck ; each stag supports a coat of arms on his back ; and each magpye has the words per ben written by her side ; which words preceded by that of Piga, form an allusive Moorish quibble I have already forgot.
The walls of the three halls are incrustated with square pieces of marble of two different colours disposed chequer-wise, and so are the floors. On the ground-floor there is a small room where before the earthquake water was made to spout from many little pipes concealed in the walls on the touching of a spring; and this is almost all that is left of that Moorish palace. They are rebuilding it, and the King will have it restored to its ancient form. A laudable thought, as posterity will still see what was the Moorish taste in architecture.
From the windows of the hall where the stags are painted, there is a fine prospect ; but I am sick of prospects, and will give you no further description of any. If you love prospects, get upon steeples.
The royal convent at Mafra has not suffer'd much by the earthquake. The friars made me observe, that the little round members over the plinths of the two great columns on each side the gate of the church, were crack'd and partly broken off. But that was almoft all the
damage damage the building has undergone, though the trepidation of the ground was so great, that some of the friars were thrown upon their faces as they were kneeling in the choir, and many people in the church stumbled against each other. Had the building inclined but an inch or two more, it would probably have gone down all at once and crush'd them all in that instant.
I take now my leave of Cintra, of that beautiful spot it stands upon, of the remaining halls of the Moorish palace, and of the high hills in that neighbourhood where many English and many Portuguese have pretty country-houses. I am told that not far from thence there is a spot of ground about a league in length and a mile broad, all planted with oranges and lemons, whose flowers in due season perfume a vast tract of country. They call it the valley of Collares, and compare it to the garden of Eden. In all probability, had I gone to see it, I Should have compared it to the territory of San Remo on the Ligurian coast.
As I came from Cintra towards Lisbon I saw some other parts of that Aqueduct that goes over the valley of Alcantara. I saw likewise some agreeable Quintas ; that is, belonging to the Portuguese nobility and gentry. Yet in general the country which I have seen during this short ramble, is rocky and barren.
LETTER XXX 255-260