Formerly known as Quinta da Vigia, the history of Camélia Gardens dates back to the early 19th century when a British priest, George Sayle Prior, acquired several properties along the western slope of the Arrabalde valley, between S. Pedro and Sintra’s Royal Palace.
Due to the geological profile of Sintra’s mountain and according to the earliest historical records, Arrabalde valley became the preferred access way to Sintra’s town center, where the Royal Court Palace was established during the 14th century.
It was precisely at the grounds where Camélia Gardens stands today, that D. Afonso Henriques (Portugal’s first king and founder), after expelling the Arabs from Lisbon, settled his army in 1147 with his allies the knights of the Second Crusade, on their way to the Holy Land, setting siege to the castle perched up on the mountain, although the Moors defenders surrendered without a fight.
It was due to a privileged location, from where one can see every monumental building crowning the crest of the mountain in all its splendor, from the thousand years old Moors Castle to the ancient Convent and Pena Palace, down the valley to Sintra’s Royal Palace, including even Mafra’s Royal Palace and Convent, far on the horizon where the plain meets the ocean, that the property was christened “Vigia” or “Watch”, from there contemplating not only every point of interest around but also who was approaching or leaving.
From the old paths, crisscrossing the Arrabalde valley, dating back to the Middle Ages or even older, possibly Roman, there still remain patches of ancient roads, preserved in the gardens belonging to Quinta da Vigia, connecting it at its western end to the public Liberty Park and from there to Sintra’s center and Royal Palace, there remaining the only exclusive walking path currently linking S. Pedro and Sintra’s center.
In 1858 the property was bought by William Smith, British Consul in Lisbon, and D. Eugénia Maria de Meneses Smith, great-grand-daughter of the Marquis of Marialva, receiving from them its current general configuration and being inherited by their only son, Major Astley Campbell Smith.
Sebastião Pinto Leite, Viscount of Gandarinha and Count of Penha Longa, acquires Quinta da Vigia in 1867 along with the old Penha Longa Convent.
Fourteen years later, in 1881, the estate comes into possession of Rodrigo Delfim Pereira, illegitimate son and heir to Brasil’s Emperor D. Pedro I also Portuguese King D. Pedro IV, who expands the property during the following years.
Since then and over more than a century, until 2012, Quinta da Vigia remained the private residence of that family, extended by marriage of Rodrigo Delfim Pereira’s daughter to Count of Seisal and the later union of that noble family with the Viscounts of Asseca lineage, having along that period both aristocratic old houses gained the high distinction of becoming Chamberlains to the Royal Court.
The Countess of Seisal and her son-in-law, Viscount of Asseca, remained faithfully and loyally with Portugal’s last King and Queen Mother, D. Manuel II and Dona Amélia of Orleans, during their exile in England after the Republic was established in 1910, keeping their posts not only as Chamberlains but especially as friends and private confidants to the royal family at the court in exile.
In retribution for such unwavering loyalty and deep friendship the Queen Mother, Dona Amélia, once granted by Portuguese dictator Salazar the opportunity to revisit Portugal in 1945, two weeks after the end of World War II, for the first and last time since she was forced into exile, included in her schedule the only protocol meeting taking place at a private residence, a lunch at Quinta da Vigia, May 22nd, with the Counts of Seisal and Asseca.
During that visit a farewell reception was granted by the Queen Mother, organized by the Viscountess of Asseca, Carolina, recently widowed, where she met António Salazar, from there developing a growing and intimate personal relation, becoming an issue at TIME’s magazine cover article, a year later July 22nd 1946, echoing the general expectation that such a relationship, born and blossomed at Quinta da Vigia, could hopefully bring about the mellowing of the dictator’s stern character and the opening of the regime after World War II. Find out about camélia gardens’ first feature ever, on time magazine:Press