Desert of the Discalced Carmelites and Built Ensemble of the Palace-Hotel in Bussaco
Permanent Delegation of Portugal to UNESCO
Luso/ Mealhada, Aveiro
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Located at Aveiro’s District, Municipality of Mealhada, Civil Parish of Luso, at 40° 33’ N and 8° 28’ (O) “W”at the “northwestern” extreme of Bussaco’s mountain range, the “Desert of the Discalced Carmelites and Built Ensemble of the Palace-Hotel in Bussaco” develops between 250 and 560 meters and exposes up mainly towards north. The enclosed surface has an area of about 105 hectares, “Vale do Sacramento” at north and “Vale do Carregal” at south, bordered in the north by “Costa do Sol” and in the south by “Costa do Sacramento”. Both valleys are separated by a slight peak, adding up at “Fonte Fria” and shaping “Vale dos Fetos”. Geologically speaking it is referred to as “synclinal do Bussaco”. Besides its sharp terrain, this landscape features natural characteristics such as exuberant vegetation and several river courses. Characterized by atmospheric humidity (typical of its micro climate), it has an annual rainfall of c. 1500mm and very frequent and dense fog, especially during Summer and Autumn.
The landscape unit (National Forest) is completely walled with several gateways throughout its wide perimeter of 1450m long and 950m wide. Through those gateways, one can reach the luxuriant woodland and at its core one will find the church as part of the Discalced Carmelite’s Convent, as well as a variety of religious buildings and a monumental palace.Bussaco’s cultural landscape is prior to the construction of the only “Desert” built by the Discalced Carmelites Order in Portugal, between 1628 and 1630. Since 6th century, there has been human intervention over nature, made by the Monks of Vacariça Monastery (located 5 km away). We must refer the amazing botanical and scenic heritage of “Mata Nacional do Bussaco”, mainly due to its huge centenary trees. Among them, the Cupressus lusitannica Miller species (aka Cedro do Bussaco), originally from Mexico and Guatemala mountains, has become the ex-libris of the Forest, due to its ancient origin, adaptation ability, high number and oversized examples.
This is a man-made landscape built over time by planting exotic and indigenous species and also through different architectural constructions from different eras. In order to create this cultural landscape, it was of great importance the construction of Santa Cruz Convent in 1628 inside the “Cerca” (the enclosure), which isolated the site from the outside world (only accessible through Coimbra’s gateway). The goal was to build an extensive project, a “desert” according to the Carmelite order concept, following the model of Jerusalem. The architectural elements that characterize the “Desert” and contributed to the physical and symbolic transformation of the landscape, filling it with religious meaning resulted in the creation of a sacred landscape, filled with devotional chapels, hermitages, the via crucis, big crosses, gateways and architectural fountains.
In 1834, with the Dissolution of the Monasteries in Portugal, the friars were forced to abandon the enclosure of Bussaco, intended to be sold at public auction. Contrary to what happened to other Catholic Church properties, Bussaco was not sold in public auction; instead, it passed to the General Administration of the Kingdom´s Forests. In order to take advantage of the site, new exotic species were planted, new pathways and gateways were opened towards the inside of the “Cerca” (enclosure), which had a decisive role regarding the transformation of the original sacred landscape. With the passing years, Bussaco became an example of 19th century Romantic Movement model. Some interventions were accomplished following this change of the landscape character, such as restoration works in several buildings and the construction of new ones, such as Saint Teresa’s Chalet, the lakes and the cascade. In order to transform the “Cerca” by adding up some new elements, in 1887 new projects were commissioned to G. Roda e Figli firm, but the plans were never put in place. However, the Convent was transformed into an hotel, a project designed by Luigi Manini. The designer, inspired by a “national style” and using the most beautiful elements of Portuguese revivalist architecture, created a building with the sense of nature transfigured into stone, achieving the aim of the Portuguese “neo-manuelino” style.
Adding to the construction that was finished in 1907 other Designers and Architects contributed to “the” building site, such as Nicola Bigaglia, José Alexandre Soares and Joaquim Norte Júnior. Hence adding a new experience to the region Baths (Thermae) destinations and local tourism, that were in development at the time, this new Palace-Hotel and the “Mata” (Forest) provided a privileged site for contemplation. The architectural ensemble is a unit characterized by all those mixed styles and different architectural solutions, according to the different life styles and cultural programs. Besides its symbolic and spiritual meanings, we must highlight the rare beauty of the site, which emerges from the perfect symbioses of natural and “man-made” elements.
It should be noted the artistic value of decorative arts (sculpture, mural painting and tilework).
Justification of Outstanding Universal Value
Bussaco’s “Mata” is quite unique in landscape art history in Portugal, for it has been clearly defined, designed and created by man for spiritual reasons (religious or contemplative). When wandering around, one can still feel its sacred dimension, just like the Discalced Carmelite’s friars had imagined, created and kept from the 17th century up to the first third of the 19th century.
It brings together the cultural landscape criteria that are expressed in the diversity of manifestations concerning the interaction between men and the environment, through a long process of experiencing and transforming the space.
This property still has a spiritual, cultural, social and economic role in today’s society. Its historical presence is apparent in religious, civil and military architectural monuments, particularly the “neomanuelino” Palace-Hotel.
The “Mata”, a tree sanctuary carved out century after century trough the work of the Discalced Carmelites’ friars and later the Forestry Administrations, features its diversity and is considered to be Europe’s finest dendrological collection due to the unique flora existing in Bussaco Mountain range and also because of its wide range of exotic species such as cypress, araucarias, eucalyptus, pseudo-tsugas and sequoias. We must point out the presence of Erica arborea (tree heath), bulbs, orchids, Pteridophyta (Dicksonia antarctica -soft tree fern-) and bryophytes (moss and Liverworts).
Criterion (ii): Bussaco represents the “cerca conventual” (enclosure) typology, known in its time as “Desert”. This original type of construction was developed by Carthusian Order and Augustinian Friars, however it was the (Discalced) Carmelites who mostly contributed for the development of the “desert” enclosure typology, due to their quite exquisite religiosity.
This original solution of a monastic enclosure, the Desert amongst other experiences built at the time, is a very important solution concerning the development of the different architectural typologies, built at the site for almost a century, from its founding in 1628 up to 1690, when the last building construction took place at the Bussaco’s Desert of the Discalced Carmelites.
Also contributing to this experience of building a sacred site is the secular transformation made possible by the development of the architectural ensemble of the Palace Hotel, which took place in a very productive era concerning revival architecture, in the context of the culture and mentalities of the Romantic Movement. The diversity of elements that shapes the architectural ensemble of the Hotel is due to the different authors involved on the project. They all follow the architectural “manuelino” style, in use during King Manuel I reign, right on the zenith of the age of discoveries, this time following the interpretation of the particular view of the 19th century romantic artists and their pens.
The construction site of Bussaco, began in 1888, and has received the contribution of distinguished artists such as Luigi Manini, who later designed the “Quinta da Regaleira” Palace in Sintra. The development of the architectural ensemble of this Monumental Hotel at Bussaco is the great reference to this architectural revivalism, believed to have been inspired by the original “manuelino” style reference buildings such as Belém Tower (Torre de Belém) and Jerónimos Monastery (Mosteiro de Santa Maria de Belém), being the last one, of great importance at the time, for the development of the “neo-manuelino” architectural revivalism, which was transformed into the experimental theatre for the development of this architectural style revival.
However, the amount of artists who designed Bussaco’s Hotel, and the extensive amount of time it took to finish the architectural ensemble (completed in 1910 and a partial new re-designing along with the extension of one of the buildings in the 1920’s) brought through new styles occurred such as neo-Romanesque and other early 20th century artistic movements such as the Beaux-Arts architecture, by the personal pen of Architect Joaquim Norte Júnior.
Criterion (iii): This is an exceptional material testimony of religious culture from 17th and 18th centuries, in a period of change: from the territorial occupation by Spain to national independence affirmation, brought by the new reigning family the Braganças.
Likewise, the Palace Hotel of Bussaco is a unique petrified example that represents the particular architectural culture, over its construction time. This creative tendency was influenced by the cultural and mentalities developed in the 19th century, by the Romantic Movement.
Criterion (iv): The unique built unit left by the Discalced Carmelite order, framed by a leafy forest and defined by place cover chronology (referred to as sacred period) is a remarkable example of architectural creation, contemporarily known as desert, in a time when this kind of sites were numerous in all Europe, especially in Spain. It represents a notable example of a monastic fence, with monastic like features.
This architectural unit, with all those different architectural typologies, built over the 17th century shows the unique and distinctive architectural characteristics defined by George Kubler as “estilo chão” (plain architecture) in development during a very particular period of Portuguese architectural history, in which this type of enclosure, the Desert so originally testifies.
In addition, we must add the revivalist creations that emerged alongside with the landscape changes made by the forestry administrations, that are called “the profane period”. The construction of Bussaco Palace Hotel was perhaps the most distinguished and one of the most remarkable revivalist buildings that followed “neo-manuelino” style guidelines.
Thereby we witness an exceptional ensemble of architectural typologies and resources, both diverse and original that took place in two distinct and important architectural periods both influenced by their unique historical and cultural backgrounds.
Statements of authenticity and/or integrity
The Enclosure (Deserto) of Bussaco might possibly be a total work of art, given that the architecture, the decorations and the mata (forest) were designed and executed following an organic goal, despite its evolution throughout time.
Even though the sacred dimension has lost some ground, the pilgrimage and devotional areas (hermitages, devotional chapels, great crosses, the via cruces and the monastery) along with the continuous vegetation cover create a “genius loci” that still maintains the religious character, suggesting the paradise as a whole, and the Mount Carmel, in particular.
This Discalced Carmelite Desert which stands out over some other similar creations in Europe, allow us to say that this might be the most complete and full desert from the Discalced Carmelites Order. The integrity of the forest (mata) is kept with the thick and dense tree collection along with the conservation of 4 landscape unities of the site. Some extreme weather conditions contributed to the need of partial reforestation work, which resulted in removing some vegetation from the Carmelite’s time. Yet, efforts have been made in order to keep the distinctive biodiversity of the area, which always have been present at the site, in opposition to the use of monocultures. With the change of character of the site from sacred to profane new gardens were created along with the Palace Hotel of Bussaco, replacing the gardens and orchards built by the Discalced Carmelites friars. The centenary camellia cultivars collection donated by the Count of Villar D’Allen in 1894 (from Oporto), are now an example of iconic garden heritage.
Comparison with other similar properties
The cultural landscape of Sacri Monti in Piemonte and Lombardia: located in Italy, composed by 9 sacred mountains, built in a hilly landscape of great environmental and landscape value composed by forests and lakes, it was inscribed in the World Heritage List in 2003 (37 COM 8C.35). This unit includes a religious route with symbolic, spiritual, historic, artistic and cultural meaning, formed by an organized architectural building of religious nature.
According to José Meco “the Carmelite’s desert (Bussaco) represents one of the most unique landscapes and architectural complexity in Portugal”. In fact, from all Europe’s deserts listed below, the Discalced Carmelites’ Desert at Bussaco is the most intact one, despite the changing that occurred which was described before.
In Spain in chronologic order: Santo desierto de Bolarque (1592), Santo desierto de Nuestra Señora de las Nieves en El Burgo (1593), Santo desierto de San José de las Batuecas (1599), Santo desierto Santa Maria del Corpus Christi en Alcalá de Henares (1599), Santo desierto San Juan Bautista en Trassierra (1598-1600), Santo desierto del Monte Cardon (1606), Santo desierto de San Hilarion en El Cardo (1610), Santo desierto la da transverbation de Santa Teresa en las Palmas (1694), Santo desierto de San José en Arcos de la Frontera (1697), Santo Desierto de San José del Cuervo en Medina Sidonia (1713), Desierto de Hoz de Anero (1754).
Just as it happened in Portugal, so did these Spanish deserts suffered an expectable decline due to different occupations, given the dissolution of the monasteries (desamortizacion de los monasterios) and secularization of the society. Some were transformed into fincas (private properties) and some were included in the fast growing urban sprawl. Only the half ruined “Desierto de las Batuecas” keeps its sacred and isolated character (some restoration work is going on) and is qualified by the Spanish system as “bien de interés cultural” as an historical site. On the other hand, “Desierto de Bolarque” is in such a neglected condition, that it has turned into a complete ruin. All these deserts presente the structural type of the Discalced Carmelite Desert, with both monastery and hermitages.
Like Bussaco, all these deserts were built in remote places away from urban sites, in rural, woody and hilly locations. An example of this, is the Desierto en las Palmas, today inside of “Parque Natural del Desierto de las Palmas”, category V in IUCN, and where you can find the monastery from the XVIII century (occupied by a religious community), 13 residential hermitages, devotional chapels and fountains, usual in deserts of the Discalced Carmelites. There are some fragments left of the enclosure wall, there are in place some elements from the passion of Christ, such as devotional columns and ceramic plates.
The example of the Catalan desert is reasonably well kept with regard to the former convent and features, although ruined, some of the original hermitages. The secularization of the place resulted in its transformation into a Bath (spa). The remarkable feature of this ancient desert, its water, is of a huge importance in this enclosure typology of the Desert. Similar to Bussaco, the water resources are being exploited by several companies.
Usually the church is built inside the cloister, as many Italian examples: deserto San Giovanni Battista Frati Carmelitani Scalzi a Varazze / Ermo del deserto (1616), deserto de Santangelo em Cuasso al Monte (1619), deserto di Montivirginio / Ermo di Montevirginio /monte Calvario (1649), deserto Massa Lubrense / S. Agata sui due Golfi (1679).
In contrast to Spanish examples, most of these places are well preserved; they may miss the desert typology but still operate as conventual areas. We must point out the Ermo del deserto Varazze and Montevirginio that belong to Discalced Carmelites novices. The deserto Cuasso al monte works as a hospital. Santa Agata sui due Golfi is today a touristic attraction in Naples with this huge landscape over Mediterranean Sea and belongs to a feminine community living in a cloistered way. Besides its monastery, there was a via crucis (via crucis del deserto) marked by devotional pillars all the way along the entrance up to the monastery. Rather than having a church inside the cloister (Iberian type) Italian deserts follow the Carthusian model: developing the cloister along the church’s axial structure.
In France: Désert des Virons (1641), Désert des Carmes dechaussés de la Garde Chatel (next to Louviers) (1660), le Saint désert de Roquebrune sur Argens (1948) the only one that still keeps its sacred feature. La Garde Chatel is nowadays a private property and shows signs of Carmelite constructions. The historical record shows that the typology used is close to the Italian one.
In Flandres: le Desert de Marlagne, Wallonade namur, Wépion (1619), Desert de Nethen (1680). Both examples are not religious anymore, due to French revolution. At Desert Marlagne there are some interesting remains of ancient Carmelite constructions, like part of the enclosure wall and the main gateway and chapels. It is designated by the Belgian system as “monument et site” (ensemble des constructions et abords) since 1982.
In Poland: Sae (1620), Klasztor karmelitow Bosych w Czernej / Saint Elias Desert (1631), Klasztor karmelitow Bosych Czerna w Zagórzu (1700). Polish examples are in different conditions: Sae doesn’t exist anymore and Czerna w Zagórzu desert is a ruin. Czernej is a good example of the Iberian model (church inside the cloister) and is still working today with a Carmelite community.
In Germany and Austria: Kloster Saint Theresa Reisach am Inn (1731), Kloster Sankt Anna in der Wuste Mannersdorf (1644). Like the polish examples, the monasteries have different uses: Kloster Saint Theresa Reisach is a Discalced Carmelites convent, Mannersdorf abandoned in 1783 and afterwards included in a forestry property, keeps its church inside a partial cloister surrounded by some buildings. Originally there were 7 hermitages on the site. Today this desert is a museum at Naturpark Mannersdorf Wuste.
According to the guidelines mentioned by the Discalced Carmelite constitutions, all these examples were built in remote landscapes, which can now be found in natural parks or protected areas. None of the referred examples are part of the UNESCO world heritage sites network.
There are some similarities between the Discalced Carmelites Desert of Bussaco and all the other deserts, concerning its structure, namely the walled enclosure defining the sacred area, architectural typology and the community space represented by the convent and the hermitages.
The via crucis, though not exclusive, is still a very characteristic and original element of Bussaco, with its chapels and sculptures, just like the ones in Sacromonte in Italy. The forestry character of the desert, common in many places, whether in larger or smaller scales, in Bussaco has a unique feature: in 1643 the Pope Urban VIII signed a document that prohibited cutting down trees inside the desert. This document represents what we can now call, many centuries later, the first environmental conservation act. The Discalced Carmelites constitution declared that the prior of the Desert should plant some new trees every single year and he could not remove trees without special authorization by the provincial of the order.
This way, the incorporation of the via crucis in Bussaco desert has made way to other sanctuaries in Portugal. This Sacromonte typology is known abroad and recognized by UNESCO such as Bom Jesus de Matosinhos Sanctuary in the city of Congonhas, state of Minas Gerais, Brazil (on the WHL since 1985, reference 334) a master piece by creative genius António Francisco Lisboa, and known as Aleijadinho. In the 18th century intervention which includes the representation of the Passion of the Christ trough six chapels.
Also the huge built unit and sculptures from sacri monti del Piemonte e delia Lombardia, formed by nine sacri monti (sacred mountains) spread by distinct places, were inscribed in the World Heritage List in 2003 (reference 1068).