If you travel between Belém and Alcântara, you’ll probably stumble on an abandoned palace dating back to the 18th century that sits quietly locked away and wildly overgrown on Rua da Junqueira at Rua da Boa Hora. Roots twist through the rusted iron bars of the front gate, locked shut with chains and an over-sized padlock. You can’t help letting your imagination fill in the blanks left by pilfered tiles. You mentally power-wash the graffiti and replace the broken windows. You yearn to straighten the shutters and trim back the overgrowth surrounding the dilapidated mansion once known for its grand balls and galas (some of which were attended by the King, D. José himself).
Today, this palace is one of the many forgotten architectural treasures of the capital sitting alone, waiting to either be loved or leveled. Atlas has done some historical bushwhacking to find out why this palace sits empty. As with any story, it’s best to start from the beginning.
The palace (or farmhouse, as it was then called) was built in 1713 by Manuel Lopes Bicudo and was first purchased in 1731 by the 55 year-old Portuguese statesman and diplomat Dom Diogo de Mendonça Corte-Real. He painstakingly manicured the existing and surrounding grounds into beautiful farms and gardens. Most notably, he built an opulent chapel (completed in 1748) that included a painting of the Anunciação (Annunciation) above the altar by the French artist Pierre-Antoine Quillard, the court painter to D. João V. No information on the painting’s whereabouts can be found, so it is assumed to have been destroyed by the great earthquake of 1755.
On the north side of the estate, Corte-Real added another piece of land to the property, called Quinta da Eira and named the entire property Quinta das Águias, or The Eagles’ Farm. Corte-Real was a minister to D. Pedro II and D. João V. Among many achievements, his most notable one was by mandate of D. Pedro II. Corte-Real oversaw armed operations in the War of the Spanish Succession and later, he participated in the negotiations leading to the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht, which ended the conflict. In 1707, D. João V appointed him Secretary of State, a position Corte-Real held until his death in 1736.
The property was then passed to the hands of Corte-Real’s son of the same name. Let’s call him “Diogo Junior” for the sake of clarity. When D. José came to the throne in 1750, he named Diogo Junior to be Naval Secretary, but six years later, the king was so displeased with Junior’s services that he exiled him, first to the north of Portugal, and later to the then-Portuguese colony of Mazagão in Morocco.
In 1768, one year before the Portuguese abandonment of this colony due to pressure from local strongman Mohammed ben Abdallah, Junior returned to Portugal, where he lived until his death in 1771 near Peniche. During the first two years of his exile, the farm was left to the care of the housekeeper, a French lady named Madame Maria Josefa Catherine du Pressieux. It is unclear who, if anyone, lived on the property for six years following her departure.
From 1758 – 1764, Junior leased the house to his half-brother D. José Manuel and his wife/daughter (eep!) Maria Francisca, to whom Junior planned to will the estate. However, he did not know that Maria was a spendthrift, and under her care, (or lack thereof) the house fell into disrepair and Junior’s will to leave the property to her was annulled. She was exiled to Angola that same year for unknown reasons.
Family feuds for the property ensued, and that same year a lawsuit was filed against the municipality. The legal battle for the Quinta continued over the next 73 years until finally, the board representing the family, “Santa Casa da Misericórdia” (or House of Mercy) won the farmhouse back after the family had spent a fortune in legal fees.
If you had a lawyer on the payroll for 73 years, you would do what the family did: immediately put it up for sale. Atlas’ lawyer friend in Lisbon wouldn’t even wager a guess at what today’s inflated fee would come to.
Marble statue from the original Quinta das Águias as now seen in Quinta de Alorna.
The next owner on record was Baron José Dias Leite Sampaio, whose background is a bit of a mystery. He purchased the palace in 1841 and remained there until 1856 when it was sold again to Visconde da Junqueira, a tobacco and soap contractor and owner of an oil factory in Alcântara and a vineyard in Almerim called Quinta de Alorna. Atlas hasn’t tried their Touriga Nacional yet, but it’s on our to-do list.
Junqueira (for whom the avenue is named) lived in this palace for 14 years. He passed the house down to his six cousins who later rented it to José Morales de Los Rios, about whom little is known. Before it changed hands again to someone outside the family, the four large marble statues that were in the front garden were moved to the Quinta de Alorna, where they remain today.
Stone eagles were added during these renovations, several of which still flank the inside gates today. They bear on their chests the letter “S,” strangely enough, as a tribute to the Baron Sampaio, the Quinta’s first owner outside the Corte-Real family.The Carvalho family owned the palace until 1970. It is uncertain why Quinta das Águias has been unoccupied for almost half a century and how it fell into the hands of the bank.
Then and Now: The front gate at Rua Junquiera circa 1930 and what remains today.
Today it (apparently) belongs to a real estate fund of BES and is for sale by Sotheby’s International. According to information gathered on their website in 2013, there were some building projects that have been discussed for the palace, though no one has any idea what they are, and considering that this information was gathered before BES became Novo Banco, who knows? A recent search on the Novo Banco website came up empty, and Sotheby’s has not responded to our request for a visit to the estate.
So what are they trying to protect within the estate’s 11,369m2?
The 6,788-m2 of gardens feature various 18th-century plant species. These species are rare enough that UNESCO is protecting the property in order to preserve them. But the plants aren’t the only survivors. Surrounding the gardens are small walls and benches of blue and white tiles (which have miraculously eluded theft) depicting scenes of fighters, boys at play, and other rural motifs having to do with the Alcântara valley, then known as a corral for grazing sheep and now known as a corral for grazing hipsters.
These hand-painted ceramic tiles, busts of bygone owners and public figures, and various mythological effigies can still be found among the weeds: some in pieces, and some complete. It makes you wonder just what could be uncovered if access in the name of preservation was granted. Câmara, are you listening?
Okay, but what about the inside?
According to Sotheby’s, the palace itself has four floors with 24 rooms including the chapel (from which vandals have stolen some of the original tiles and gold carvings), a fantastic library, a drawing room, a scullery (a kitchen large enough for a full staff, think Downtown Abbey), a music room, and a ballroom.
Pamper yourself in one of the 10 bathrooms and parade across the original surviving floors, some of which are laid in parquet made of dark exotic wood, some in marble, and others in the original pine slats. Vaulted and elaborately-painted ceilings crown some rooms, and one of them (it is unclear which) reportedly has a 16th-century oak panel sculpture in low relief of The Last Supper.
To get to these, you must enter through the grand foyer where the original tile panels in the staircase (just short of 1,000 tiles) were all stolen by vandals in 2006, according to Lisboa S.O.S..
In the carriage house on the north side, you can park all five of your carriages. It could also handle 10 cars if you must.
Information found on various forums online will tell you that you can visit the quinta by appointment if you contact the Society of the Eagle’s Palace Real Estate Administration (Sociedade de Administração Imobiliária Palácio das Águias). Atlas followed these instructions but was told, apologetically, that visits can only be arranged by contacting the Sotheby’s International office here in Lisbon. While you wait for a response, you can peruse the images on their website.
Ready to move in? It can be yours for the bargain price of around 20 million euros, that is, if they’ll show it to you. Atlas is still waiting for an appointment.