Next to the manicured gardens and hilltop villas of Sintra, Portugal is the fairytale estate of Quinta da Regaleira. Protected in a Unesco World Heritage landscape, Quinta da Regaleira is a perfect blend of postcards of Gothic, Egyptian, Moorish and Renaissance architecture. But it is what is located under the palace gardens that really distinguishes the design of the area. A pair of wells, called initiation wells, spirals deep into the earth, like inverted towers. The wells were never used to collect water. Instead, they were part of a mysterious initiation ritual in the tradition of the Knights Templar.
Quinta da Regaleira has had many owners over the decades, but it was António Augusto Carvalho Monteiro, one of Portugal’s wealthiest men at the turn of the 20th century, who made the estate what it is today hui.
Carvalho Monteiro was deeply interested – and most likely an initiate – in the Templars, a Catholic military order whose roots date back to the early 12th century. While the group would have dissolved 700 years ago, some groups, such as the Freemasons, revived the rituals and traditions of the medieval group centuries later. With the architect and decorator Luigi Manini, Carvalho Monteiro created a property overflowing with pagan and Christian symbolism between 1904 and 1910. The wells of the property, located in the vast gardens that Manini also designed, served as a starting point for initiation ceremonies for Templar candidates.
It is believed that the Templar initiations at Quinta da Regaleira began with the candidates entering one of the initiation wells blindfolded. Holding a sword near their hearts, they would descend nine flights of stairs – a number that represents the nine founders of the order of the Templars. Once at the bottom of the well, the candidate would enter a dark labyrinth where he would find symbolically and literally his way to light. If they could go up through the tower of the well and in the sunlight, the initiates would walk on stones in the water to reach the chapel, where they would then be welcomed in the brotherhood.
While Templar initiations no longer take place at Quinta da Regaleira, visitors are invited to follow in the footsteps of candidates from the past, to discover this ode to the hidden myths and history of Portugal.
(Video by Fernando Teixeira and Izabela Cardosa; text by Emily Cavanagh)
This video is part of BBC Reel’s Hidden Histories playlist.
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