Portugal - Torres - Bemfica - Alcobaca
( Originally Published 1891 )
October 29th.-In going north from Lisbon it is not the churches and palaces and convents alone which attract the attention. The rounded hills crowned with windmills, the valleys clothed with corn, the grazing flocks and herds, the glimpses of the sea which dances and sparkles along this coast as if the sea-nymphs dwelt here and as if Neptune had selected these waters for his high court, make up a view of constant and varied beauty, and reconcile the traveller to the deliberate progress of the Portuguese railway. Often at this time of the year the passenger will find an entire compartment to himself in which seven of the " eight assentos" are unoccupied, where he can lounge and look and think without being molested by the smokers of cigarettes. The landscape is not very lively, burnt brown as it is by the summer's sun, nor are the hedgerows and gardens and copses very musical, abandoned as they are by every singing-bird, if they ever had any. The newsboys at the stations sound their four notes and a musical octave to tell you that they have the morning journal, and the water-carriers swing their carafes and cry water with a final qua worthy of the rich man who called for water to cool his tongue. There is a good deal of Portuguese language sent forth with successive explosions at these stations by those in the busy walks of life, who are unmindful of the fine modulations of which the language is capable. There is a strange sort of animal vigor in the midst of the natural repose. Things are done and said with a will and an energy which seem wholly unnecessary under the circumstances. Even the donkeys bray with a vocal force unknown to more high-toned and dignified domestic animals. All this is attractive for a time, but the sameness of the landscape, and the stillness of the air, and the monotony of tongues, and the loneliness and seclusion of the compartment bring on a reflective mood, in which the events wrought out, and the designs laid, and the thoughts evolved along this shore become more interesting and important than the shore itself.
After leaving the sacred precincts of Bemfica and the stately arches of the aqueduct, of which you no more tire than you do of the everlasting hills, the green earth-works remind you that you are on that line along which the Duke of Wellington constructed the fortifications which enabled him to drive the French from Portugal. The lines of Torres Vedras are as famous in the history of war on the peninsula as the convention of Cintra is in the history of peace. I have always had a great admiration for the Duke of Wellington—as who has not ? I saw him once in the House of Lords, stately, old, and silent, but he seemed to rise superior to Brougham and Stanley and Russell and the rest, partly because he bore a more commanding presence, and partly, I suppose, because he was the conqueror at Waterloo, and more because he could look back on such a tremendous life —tremendous is the only word which describes that life. I have always been sorry that they removed his equestrian statue at Hyde Park, for it was the Iron Duke on a thoroughbred. I always liked the way in which he told a flatterer not to " make a damned fool of himself." I think the grim chuckle with which he pointed an applauding crowd to the iron shutters on his palace, put there after a mob had threatened its destruction ,—pointed, too, with the handle of his riding-whip, as he rode through the cheering multitude,—is one of the best pictures of lofty scorn on record. The gentle affection he manifested towards the young queen at her inauguration, the war-worn veteran that he was, whom iron alone could typify, always brought tears to my eyes, as a picture of English loyalty and pride and parental solicitude and love. When he said he had no talk and Palmerston had no manners, and when he objected to Napoleon because he was no gentleman, he somehow won my admiration. But when I passed my eye along the hilltops that lead from Lisbon to Torres Vedras, in sight of that ostentatious and imposing monument of kingly pride and extravagance at Mafra, making a horizon from the heights of Cintra, and remembered that here as a young man, so young that an incompetent senior officer superseded him on the field of battle, I must confess that I admired him more than I did when I traced the furrows of his cannon-shot at Waterloo and saw his great sword carving up the empire Napoleon had built in Continental Europe. He was in a great company, moreover, on these shores and among these hills. The bones of John de Castro might have moved in their sacred tomb where they had reposed two centuries and a half, and his spirit might have rejoiced in its heavenly abode, as the footfall of the great warrior was heard on those heights. He had gone forth in his youth to stay the hand of the great conqueror of Europe, and he halted not until he had accomplished his mission at Waterloo ; and this was the spot where his work began.
Torres Vedras was fortified as silently as was Bunker Hill. Before Europe was aware of it, a hundred and fifty forts, redoubts, and batteries, extending along the hills a distance of forty miles, had been constructed. The details of the work were complete—perfect for its intention. " For the militia there are nearly inattackable posts to guard the passes ; for the infantry, admirable fields of battle suited to ensure and profit by victory ; for the cavalry, spacious plains to which the enemy must arrive through passes rendered impracticable to their cavalry and artillery." So said a brave and skilful commander. But Wellington fought as well as fortified. In August, 1808, he fought at Rolica and cut off the communication of the French army with Lisbon. He accomplished his famous passage of the Douro and drove Soult from Oporto. He fought Ney and Junot at Busaco ; and drove the French out of Portugal. Of course I make this story short. The events, however, have made the ground over which we are travelling historic, and have served as a theatre on which English valor has displayed its most heroic qualities. Here Wellington commenced his great career of success which gave England the mastery of Europe, and on this coast Sir John Moore won his immortality, and inspired the English poet who sang for him the sweetest requiem known to the sweetest of all languages.
But long before you reach Corunna and the heights of Elvira, where Sir John Moore fell, you arrive at Oporto, where Wellington, two years before he fortified Torres Vedras and four months after the death of Moore, performed his first great act in driving the French from the Iberian peninsula. It was on the 12th of May, 1809, that Wellington reached the south bank of the Douro, and, looking from the precipitous rocky hill, past whose base the river flows, saw Soult occupying the opposite bank and having destroyed all means of communication across the stream. On his way from Coimbra, in command of fourteen thousand men, he had succeeded in driving the French into the city, and had compelled the great marshal to mass all his troops on the northerly side of the stream. Across that deep and rapid current he discovered the opportunity afforded him by the Seminario, an unfinished building on the high bank, with a lofty stone wall en-closing space enough for a strong body of soldiers. A boat to cross the stream and a concealed battery on the Serra, enabled him to embark his troops and to occupy the Seminario before the French had discovered his movement, and had rallied to that fierce attack so famous in that campaign. The English battery commanded all approach to the hill ; the people of the town rallied to transport their deliverers across the river ; the French retired before the sturdy work of the English troops and the well-devised movement of the English commander. Oporto was relieved ; Soult's army was in full retreat ; and but for the apathy of the German troops under General Murray would have been completely destroyed. It was here that the French learned that quality of the English soldier which secured the great victory at Waterloo.
In his campaigns along the Atlantic coast of Portugal Wellington occupied ground already famous for military achievements and for fierce conflicts even in the olden times. The railway carries you through a constant succession of historic towns. At Alemquer, but a few miles on the way, still stand the ruins of the strongest fortress built by the Moors in Portugal, captured, in 1148, by Affonso Henriques, the proclaimed King of Portugal, the deliverer of Lisbon from the Moors, the founder of the power of the kingdom. It was at Santarem ,that the aged Affonso Henriques rallied his army in aid of his son, Dom Sancho, in his final victory over the Moors. At Coimbra, the first capital of the monarchy, Rodrigo de Bivar, the celebrated Cid, in 1064 vanquished the Moors and expelled them forever from the town ; and here, a hundred and twenty years later, Affonso Henriques held a council of his warriors and organized his expedition against Santarem. When I consider the history of this little strip of sea-coast I am not sure that it has received credit enough for the example it has set of resistance to usurpers, of devotion to the best government within its reach, of valor on the field, of power in council, of enterprise on sea and land, and of culture of the human mind and the inspiration of heroic endeavor.
From the earliest period of Portuguese history until our own generation Oporto has been the seat of civil and military contests, and has secured to itself the title of the Unconquered City. For nearly two centuries it remained utterly annihilated by war—from 820 to 1000. Rebuilt at that time by the French it took the part of Dom Affonso in his war with Dom Diniz ; its inhabitants, men and women, struck against a tax imposed, in 1628, on linen and woollen manufactures ; against a tax on stamped paper they struck again in 1661 ; they rose in insurrection in 1756 against the wine monopoly of Pombal and suffered executions on the scaffold and confiscation for their efforts ; in 1807 they rose against the French yoke ; in 1820 they proclaimed the constitution ; in 1842 they replaced the charter ; in 1846 they replaced the constitution ; in 1832 they sheltered Dom Pedro with his army of seven thousand five hundred men, when he was besieged by Dom Miguel unsuccessfully ; and after the defeat of Dom Miguel they sent forth the Conde de Villa Flor on his excursion to Algarve and thence to Lisbon, defeating Telles Jardao and breaking up the Miguelites there ; they witnessed the defeat of Bourmont and the collapse of the pretender and claimant ; and they rejoiced in the coronation of Maria Gloria as queen.
On the route from Lisbon north lies Aljubarrota, a battle-ground never to be forgotten or overlooked in a survey of Portugal. It is a little town lying almost under the shadow of the best ecclesiastical architecture in Portugal. Here was decided the independence of this kingdom. In 1383 Dom Fernando I. died and left no legitimate heir to the throne, his daughter, Dona Brites, having married Don Juan I. of Castile. The Cortes at Coimbra undertook to establish a succession in the person of the Master of Aviz, an illegitimate son of Dom Pedro I. This opportunity for conquest was not lost upon the King of Castile, who, gathering his army, marched upon Lisbon, to be followed by the Master of Avis, now known as Dom Joao I. of Portugal. The son of his father fell upon the Spanish army with great fury and routed them horse, foot, and dragoons. The victory was complete. The standard of Castile was taken, and the Castilian Don Juan fled on horseback to his quarters at Santarem. His entire outfit, such as a Castilian king in all his glory would provide, fell into the hands of the bastard,—including a silver tripod for the altar, a large Bible, helmets and swords, and the pelote of Don Juan. The victory was attributed to St. Bernard, and the independence of Portugal was established.
I suppose battles and battle-fields are not the most interesting objects for a traveller's record, and yet they will not be passed over, nor will their heroes be neglected. They furnish the background of the great panorama of civilization ; and they mark the ways mankind has travelled in the construction of social and civil organization. "The battle of Waterloo swung back the progress of Europe for ten generations," said the great English divine. The battle of Bunker Hill gave vital force to an uprising republic. The battle of Gettysburg confirmed the strength of a nation. We survey the fields where these things were accomplished —not those alone where the heroes fell and monuments are erected.
But why should I forget the naval engagements in the waters which wash the coast from Corunna to Gibraltar—the great English victories,—which did so much to control the politics of Europe : that of Rodney, who destroyed the Spanish fleet in 1780; that of Nelson, who broke the power of France at Trafalgar ; and that of Sir Charles Napier, who destroyed the fleet of Dom Miguel and placed Dona Maria Gloria on the throne of Portugal.
Northern Portugal has always been distinguished for its great ecclesiastical buildings—churches, convents, monasteries. Its ancient buildings have been largely destroyed—those great religious foundations for which wars were carried on and in the construction of which vast wealth was lavished. There are many mutilated remains, but few perfect buildings. The glory, too, is gone. The cloisters are deserted, the cells abandoned, the chapels are idle, the arches no longer reecho to the music of the mass or to the solemn responses of the assembled ecclesiastics.
This heroic section of Portugal is also one of the most thrifty. The Douro region is known for the fertility of its soil, the luxuriance of its pastures, the value of its crops, the size of its cattle, and generally for the sturdy development of its men and the beauty of its women. It seems as if the glow of the Celts, the vigor of the Saracens, the finely chiselled features of the Moors, the vivacity of the French, and the solemnity of the Jews had all combined to make up this remarkable people, the best of whom are at the north. It is from this region and beyond to the Bay of Biscay that the most erect and graceful and tidy of the girls who carry great burdens on their heads come to Lisbon. If you ask a landowner where his farm is situated, he will reply proudly, " On the Douro " ; meekly if south of the Tagus. The great river that waters this region is rich in all that makes a river valuable : good water power, good fishing, most delicious water for drinking, most delectable for washing. The people along its banks are well developed, and evidently well fed. They live in a charming country where hill and valley are well balanced and are luxuriantly clad with verdure. The landscape resembles the inimitable beauty of the tree-crowned hills and green valleys of Vermont in mid summer, without the gorgeous and flaming coloring of autumnal forests. It is easy to account for the power and independence of a people born on a soil like this. It is easy also to account for their fondness for comfort-able homes and good apparel. The peasantry who are in good circumstances possess a most picturesque wardrobe—picturesque for Portugal even, where the dyed colors are most beautiful—from the handkerchiefs worn on the head to the bodice and the border of the skirt. Their gold ornaments are of the most graceful and artistically wrought patterns, and are worn in great profusion. The people are temperate and peaceable and apparently cheerful. Careworn faces and mournful voices are not often met with. Their dances are frequent and long continued, and their singing is sweet and natural as a bird's. They are as courteous and civil as the best classes in what is considered the best society, and more reverential than many persons who are brought up in what claims to be an especially reverential class in a community.
I have no doubt that the influence of the dismantled churches and convents and monasteries still remains among the people of Portugal. In the neighborhood of Alcobaça—in this section which I am now observing —the traditions and memories of the old convent must remain. It is not many years since the glory of the church at Alcobaça was at its height. The luxuriousness of the table was unsurpassed. The kitchen and the wine cellar were filled with an abundance and variety of all man could desire to eat and drink. The apartments were gorgeous with Persian carpets, lace-bordered napkins, ewers and basins of solid silver. The dining saloon was richly decorated and furnished, and at the dining hour lighted with numerous wax tapers in sconces of silver. The menu surpassed that of the Romans—lampreys, edible bird's-nests, most delicate preparations of pork and veal and poultry. The wines were most delicate, richly made, and ripened to perfection. The incense of aromatic woods through the hall attended the feast. The banqueting-room is now closed, the silver scattered, the luxury and religion of Alcobaça are all over.
The monastery was commenced in 1148 and finished in 1272. The nine hundred and ninety-nine monks inhabiting it were divided into three deaneries, so succeeding each other that praise never ceased under that roof. The Abbot held the rank of an archbishop. The endowment of the monastery was great. The tombs of kings and queens buried there still remain. Among them the mausoleum of Dom Pedro and Inez de Castro stands conspicuous for its beauty and the sad tragedy it commemorates. The story of Inez de Castro cannot be told to often. The daughter of a Spanish nobleman who had fled for safety to the court of Dom Affonso IV. she was wooed and won by the infante Dom Pedro, who privately married her. Her position at court attracted her countrymen, who gathered around her for that security they could not find at home. The courtiers of Affonso became jealous of the Spaniards, and cruelly demanded the death of Inez. During the absence of Dom Pedro, the King with three of his knights visited her at her quinta, and, while he was moved to pity by her prayers and tears, his companions fell upon her and murdered her almost before his eyes. Dom Pedro on his return was driven to madness. He took up arms against his father, laid waste the whole of Minho, and two of the murderers having been captured were tortured to death. Inez de Castro was entombed to await the time when Dom Pedro had wreaked his vengeance and proved the reality of his private marriage. Her body was then raised from the tomb and crowned Queen of Portugal and the Algarves. Her story has passed into the literature of the world, while the sculptured effigies of herself and her lover and husband lie so arranged that at the resurrection the first object that shall meet their eyes will be the beloved forms of each other. The great historic pile of Alcobaça is brought home to our hearts by the tomb of Dom Pedro and Inez de Castro.
The art at Alcobaça is small. A portrait of Thomas à Becket and numerous inscriptions to the memory of the knights slain in the battle of Aljubarrota constitute all there is of it.
Not far away, over a rough road terminating in a wide plain, is Batalha, where was fought the great battle, and where, high above this level surface, stands the great church with its compact accumulation of but-tresses and pinnacles so closely joined that the beauty of each individual spire and pinnacle is almost lost. The endowment of Batalha was small ; now it stands idle, one of the numerous wasted investments of Portugal in her days of wealth and power. The memory of Pombal's murderous decree at Batalha against the Duke of Aveiro on a suspicion of conspiracy, and the cruel death of the duke and duchess with their friends and followers, with the burning of their bodies and the casting of their ashes into the river, still remain among the horrors of Portugal. Here repose the bodies of Dom Joao and his queen Philippa in a chapel of Gothic design renowned for its beauty and grandeur, with their hands clasped as in marriage ceremony. The tombs of Dom Fernando, who died in captivity at Fez in 1443 ; and of the infante Dom Joao, Master of the Order of Santiago ; and of Dom Duarte, Duke of Vizeu ; and of Dom Pedro, Duke of Coimbra, who fell in the battle of Alfarrobeira, form a sad monumental group.
The erection of the church and monastery was commenced in 1388, and completed in 1515. It was erected by Dom John in consequence of a vow made on the field of Aljubarrota, and was dedicated to the order of the Dominicans. From the day of its completion until now it has challenged the admiration of the world. The design of the building is most elaborate and bewildering. Architects have endeavored in vain to imitate it after the most careful study ; archaeologists have been unable to decipher its inscriptions. It is a monument to the wealth and piety of its designers, and the great king who caused its erection. Like its ecclesiastical companions, it now stands idle and deserted—even its economical refectory closed, its chapels silent, its beautiful proportions a dumb history of the chivalry of the proud centuries in which it was built. It is a relic now, and as such it must remain to the progressive generations that are coming on.
I shall have more to say hereafter of the wonders of Northern Portugal.