Sintra is a Portuguese town close to Lisbon, which was selected as the site for a royal palace since the Middle Ages, for its specific climatic location, with cool summers and mild, sunny winters. Sintra became the elected space for nobility to build sumptuous villas and quintassurrounded by artistically designed gardens and parks. This extraordinary development of the Sintra landscape reached its height during the reign of King Ferdinand II of the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha dynasty, in the second half of the 19thcentury. He built a romantic palace on top of the hill, amidst the ruins of the old Hieronymitesmonastery and planted luxurious gardens and forests, full of exotic tree and plants.
The solitude of the hills and its forests also attracted monks and hermits, who enriched it with monasteries and hermitages. In fact, the Sintra hill, known as the “Moon hill” has been occupied and used for religious purposes since megalithic times. A long tradition of mysticism surrounds this space, placed right in front of the European finisterra, the so-called westmost point of Europe, the Roca Cape.
Sintra was inscribed as a UNESCO site in 1995, when UNESCO expanded the World Heritage categories and established the “Cultural Landscape” criteria. The nomination of a cultural landscape to the world Heritage List requires an exceptional mixture of natural and cultural sites within a distinct framework. The serra de Sintraconforms convincingly with this requirement, since it represents a model of romantic landscape, and it is also a referral for different architectural periods as well as historical groups that inhabited the country.
If Sintra and the serraare thought of as truly unique, with its international renown reputation as a especial destination for among poets, artists, thinkers, notably in the context of Romanticism, its distinctive character rests on the successful blend between nature and monuments.
In 2000 the enterprise Parques de Sintra-Monte da Lua was created, targeting the safeguarding and valuing cultural and natural public spaces and items located in the area covered by the Cultural Landscape of Sintra– World Heritage site.
Most of the monumental sites and parks have been restored, cared for, and opened to the public, and Sintra is nowadays a main touristic destination. From a religious standpoint, Sintra continues to be used by various religious groups—afro-Brazilian, neo-druids, neo-shamans, neo-pagans, masons, Pentecostals, Catholics. etc—who value the magical aura of Sintra and defend its mystical attraction.
The research conducted in Sintra has shown how different approaches collide: on the one side, the safeguarding of natural, biological and monumental, human built heritage, which prevents certain spaces from being used freely. On the other, the respect for religious diversity defended in the Portuguese constitution. Different religious approaches and secular conceptualizations, different heritage regimes.