IMG_0851Our recent visit to Portugal included a longer trip 1 hour north from Lisbon to a fascinating park (it is too big to be called a garden)- in fact it is billed as the biggest oriental park in Europe, stretching to around 35 hectares.

Developed within the Quinta dos Loridos vineyard, the Buddha Eden Peace Park was inspired as recently as 2001, when wealthy Portuguese investor and art patron José Berardo was shocked by the Taliban government’s destruction of the Giant Buddhas in Afghanistan.  In response to the demolition of these masterpieces of the late Gandhara period, Berardo initiated the Buddha Eden in an homage to these cultural and spiritual monuments.

Buddhas, pagodas, terracotta statues and carefully placed sculptures (modern and western) can be found throughout the park. It is estimated that some six thousand tons of marble and granite were used to create this monumental work of art.

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It is certainly an impressive achievement and one which has been laid out to a monumental scale. There are beautifully framed views and a wide range of interesting features to capture your attention as you wander round the clearly defined pathways. The planting, as you might expect at this scale, is simple and must look dramatic earlier in the season when masses of Agapanthus are in flower.

The central staircase is the focal point of the park, where the reclining golden Buddha, despite its size, creates a sense of calm.

At the central lake, Koi (Japanese carp) fish can be seen, and sculpted dragons rise out of the water.

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There are seven hundred hand-painted terracotta soldiers, each of them unique copies of those which were buried some 2,200 years ago in China. These looked to be in need of repainting (and in one or two cases more significant repair), but being able to walk among them (they were all well over 6 feet tall) was a strangely unnerving (but enjoyable) experience.

The park is certainly a fantastic visitor experience, though by the end of our visit I was feeling a little ‘over buddhad’ and almost overwhelmed by the monumentality of everything. Perhaps some thought needs to be given to creating some smaller, more human scale spaces which can complement the rest of the Park – and in doing so, perhaps making the experience of this even more intense.

The park seems to be unsure of what it is trying to be, perhaps at a stage of transition from one man’s passionate and bold move to preserve a cultural legacy to something akin to a modern-day theme park- nicely captured by the electric train that ferries visitors unwilling or unable to walk around the site!

Old School Gardener