The view to the River Tagus from the front of the Neccessidades Palace in Lisbon

The view to the River Tagus from the front of the Necessidades Palace in Lisbon

On our recent 15 mile trek across western Lisbon, we took in a park that is not often mentioned in tourist trails- that of the Necessidades Palace. The palace itself is a grand looking affair, now the country’s Foreign Office, so not open to the public. The view from outside is good in all directions- one way you look out across the River and the ‘Golden Gate- look alike’ bridge; turn round and you have the splendid pink and cream stone facade of the palace and ornamental fountains. The park is tucked round the back and has the air of somewhere that’s been a little forgotten of late.

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about the Palace, a very important site in portuguese history:

‘Formerly a convent… it was built in the 18th century, by order of King John V, in gratitude for prayers answered by Our Lady of Needs, whose first devotional chapel stood on this site…The palace became the residence of the kings of the Braganza dynasty… Ferdinand of Saxe Coburg and Gotha, husband of Maria II, lived in this palace until his death, amassing a large collection of art, which would be dispersed after his death. The palace then underwent several renovations to accommodate the taste of the various monarchs who lived there, the most recent of which was carried out at the beginning of the twentieth century by Carlos I….

…The palace was the scene of memorable events in Portuguese history, some momentous, some tragic, some slightly ridiculous. One famous example: the king Pedro V had installed in the front door of the palace a slot through which his subjects could, if they wished to, leave messages and complaints for the attention of the sovereign. The last significant event at the palace, which would also be the epilogue of the monarchy, was the joint funeral of King Carlos and his son, Prince Luis Filipe, on 8 February 1908, after their assassination by radical republicans…’

The palace was shelled during the republican revolution in 1910 and subsequently most of its art and other treasures were moved to the Ajuda Palace (which we had visited a day or two before).

Today’s park (or ‘tapada’), evolved from a private hunting ground for the Kings of Portugal and it retains the feel of a semi wild place, but with areas of more defined botanical or garden interest. As you progress up the hill from the entrance next to the Palace you alternate between enclosed, wooded areas and open grassy plains. About half way up the scene turns into a more formal park setting with a a terrace sitting alongside a grand, glass-domed estufa (greenhouse) currently undergoing renovation. Looking rather like an enclosed amphitheatre, this space must have once been the setting for a theatrical display of a different kind- tiered ranks of exotic plants. How grand it must have looked. I hope that it will be fully restored and will no doubt be a gem of a place that will raise the profile of the park more generally.

Paths weave upward above the terrace, the otherwise peaceful setting being regularly interrupted by the sound of aircraft coming in to land at the City’s airport. Another grand building sits atop the park, set off by a fine fountain. This gives way to a wilder area with a round building that looks as though it may have been a windmill at one time. There are some superb areas of Agaves and other dramatic plants. The overall impression, though, is one of a parkland that must be great for a summer picnic, rather than a space where growing and showing interesting plants is the dominant activity. Apart from the domed glass house that is.

A place where once glorious scenes are slowly being reclaimed from the passage of time and nature’s path.

Old School Gardener