I last visited the Jardim Botânico da Ajuda (Ajuda Botanical Garden) on a pretty dreary day. This meant that I took some pretty dreary photos for my dear readers… but it also meant that I got the place to myself! This 250-year-old botanical garden can be found right near the Palácio Nacional da Ajuda, which makes it very convenient for visitors to experience both. Oh, and did I mention the garden boasts a restaurant and a gorgeous view?
The land for the Jardim Botânico da Ajuda was purchased around the same time as that of the Palácio Nacional da Ajuda after the great earthquake of 1755 destroyed the previous palace, along with most of Lisbon. The idea was that it would serve as a farm to grow crops for the royal household. But the royal tutor, Miguel Franzini, suggested they build the 15th botanical garden in Europe (the first in Portugal) instead. With a Museum of Natural History and a Physics Office next door, the area would provide a learning center for the king’s grandsons.
Dr. Domingos Vandelli, a graduate of the University of Coimbra, was appointed to head the project. He imported seeds and living plants from all over the world. In its heyday, the botanical garden housed over 5000 species of flora. By the end of the 18th century, however, only 1200 species survived, as priority was given to the building of the palace over the maintenance of the garden. Martinho de Mello, who later took up the post of garden supervisor, ordered the construction of two greenhouses for exotic plants and promoted the use of plants for medicinal purposes. He brought plants and seeds from the Portuguese colonies of Brazil, Angola and Cape Verde. It was at this time that the garden and museum became open to the public.
Over the years, in times of greater wealth, the variety of species increased and additions were made to the botanical garden; in times of war or hardship, the attention to the garden subsided. In the 19th century, the garden became part of a higher education institution, only to be returned to the royal house 40 or so years later, after it had started falling into disrepair. King D. Luís, the third-to-last king of Portugal, added the orquid greenhouse. For the last 107 years, the Jardim Botânico da Ajuda has belonged to the Instituto Superior de Agronomia (the Higher Institute for Agronomy, now part of the Universidade de Lisboa).
Today, the garden is open to the public and you’re welcome to leisurely stroll around in the middle of the diverse plants and resident peacocks (including some white ones!). The garden is conveniently divided into sections by continent/region including Africa, the Mediterranean, North & Central America, Asia, Central Europe, Macaronesia, South Africa, Australia & New Zealand, and South America. It’s like going around the world in under an hour! In addition to walking through the garden, I was lucky enough to get a sneak peek inside a greenhouse, which was a real treat. I loved seeing the cacti, succulents, orchids and other plants in their early stages of development. I then made my way down to the late baroque garden with the famous Fonte das Quaranta Bicas (the fountain of forty spouts), which features intricate animal motifs. I didn’t get a chance to eat at the restaurant there, but if you’ve made your way around the palace and the botanical gardens, you’ve certainly earned yourself a good meal!
Have you been to the Jardim Botânico da Ajuda? What did you think?