The Last Battle You’re Free
Nestled in the Monsanto Hills, on the city’s edge, glimpses of modernity far below, sits the Fronteira Palace. The seat of the Marquesses of Fronteira, it is Portugal’s premier example of a 17th century Italianate palace and gardens. A tapestry of sunburnt red walls, yellowed white trimmings, cerulean blue screens and enigmatically black loggias elevates the elevations from architecture to art. This being Lisbon, tiles are aplenty too. Or azulejos as they’re locally named, lifting the prosaic to the mosaic. Founder Dom João de Mascarenhas, 2nd Count of Torre and 1st Marquess of Fronteira, was clearly good with colour.
Following the 1755 earthquake which smashed up the family’s city centre home, the former hunting lodge was upgraded to palace. At this time, the 5th Marquess Dom José Luis de Mascarenhas added a family wing perpendicular to the gated entrance. And that was that. And this is now. If architecture is frozen music, then Fronteira Palace is frozen history. But there are bills to be paid. “Very few family owned historic houses in Lisbon are open to the public,” says the guide. “The main rooms are hired out as they are for weddings. We don’t clear the furniture away. The family wing is completely private.”
The gardens are the stuff of Capability Brown nightmares. A maximalist dream of terraces and terracotta, clipped bushes and stone tushes, box hedging and bucks’ antlers, urns and turns, airs and parterres. In their midst, unbeknownst to the casual wanderer, a red eyed red beaked black swan, a magnificent beast, a silent risk, patrols his territory: the lake and then some. “He attacks people!” warns the guide. This palace is now the black swan’s hunting lodge. The hunted has become the hunter. Ha! An epistemological fourth quadrant – this one has legs.