The train just stopped at the Caxias station. The district is located inside the municipality of Oeiras, and enjoys a tranquil urban riverside ambiance. The wind picks up as I come out and take a look above, to see the few clouds dragging in the sky and the bright afternoon sun, already halfway down the horizon, elongating every shadow. The train tracks extend for a few hundred meters before making a turn at the lush green hills, ponctuated by villas. The train leaves, revealing an old, restored carriage that sits nearby. Behind it, on the other side of the fence, are the roads leading to town. On the opposite side of the station, there's the busy marginal road, the sidewalk with palm trees, the Caxias fort and the Caxias beach, bathed by the Tejo. I put on a sweatshirt and climb up the bridge over the tracks.
There is a peaceful park right next to the station, by a big cafe. Most of the people are crossing the green lawns to get to town, but there are a few enjoying its benches and the colorful children playground. I follow one of the paths of cobblestone and tar, speckled with petals from the jacarandas, passing by an empty skate park and reaching a bridge that goes over the Ribeira de Barcarena canal, with the sound of carriages in the background. As I go down a few steps leading to an avenue, two girls go past me in a frenzied run, hoping not to miss their train. The avenue was built following the quiet river stream, with a small sidewalk on its side. The water is low, showing a great deal of shrubs that fill the canal walls. A few carps swim around, away from the small rapids that appear along the stream.
On the other side of the canal nature grows freely, part of the Quinta Real de Caxias, dating from the XVIII century. Here and there, a statue or a column appears from the large bushes and trees. On top of the biggest ones are many white herons, catching sunlight. The avenue leads to a roundabout, where the housing, to the right, opens up a bit. It never seems to completely replace the vegetation that shows up between the walls and roofs, offering some shade to the streets. Across the river, only by the approaching bridge are a few houses, in front of which are the farms, with people working on something. An engine, or a pump, is making a low buzzing sound. In the distance I spot the top of a church, and try to find a way to reach it, before visiting the gardens.
I'm now on the other river bank. Around the church, behind low stone walls and gates, are big green areas, left untouched. The vegetation grows at its own will, only stopped by the old buildings of houses and villas, also left abandoned. I walk up to the entrance patio of the Cartuxa church, where immediately a pair of lilac trees stands out. The jacaranda petals are all over the floor and stairway, on top of which there is the door. It is closed, like the windows, but I approach it anyway. I can hear the sound the sound of a pipe organ, rehearsing some chords that quickly get interrupted and begin anew. The whole facade in white and the light-colored floor of cobblestone make this a very depurated, almost naked spot. I walk back through the same road along the river, until I get to the passage I noticed before, the entrance to Quinta Real de Caxias.
The lowering sun has been generous up until now, but as I walk inside a cloud passes by. In front of a small lawn of trimmed grass the trails lead to different areas of the gardens. The singing of birds echoes around. I decide to get a bit lost and choose the alameda of tall trees, to the right. It is a long path, enclosed by a forest of trees, shrubbery and reeds. The soft wind makes the leaves sussuratte, in waves that come and go. The people that I cross paths with come from the other end, where an open gate stands. I'm guessing it leads to the train station, because the small crowds appear at regular moments. A few dozens of meters before the gate there is a new path to the left, so I go for it. Above some steps there is a small gravel patio, surrounded by large trees that cover the area in shade, punctuated by sunlight rips. The air smells like oranges. Looking ahead, there sits the monumental waterfall.
Right next to the patio it there is a huge grid of geometrically arranged hedges, rectangles with almost tribal shapes inside. There is a corner reserved for an orchard, flowers and other plants. All the way up there is the waterfall, at the center of a wall of terraces for plants to watch the visitors below. Righ now, there is only a man walking his dog. The near-symmetrical image of the garden is often cut by the tall palm trees and a huge pine. Sometimes, the trails lead to waterspouts with mosaics, but they are empty, like the waterfall tank. The tall structure seems built on arenous rock, with a profusion of textures and details, a single white window, a bird-like figure on top and stairways on both sides. The materials give it a sort of brute beaty.
It seems evident that there some works have been taking place, but it feels like it has taken a lot of time already. Only a few of the marble statues representing a greek mythological scene are present, and the rest has been replaced with provisional silhouettes. The figure around wich the whole garden seems built around of, Diana bathing with the Nimphs, isn't here. A few foreigners pass by, talking joyfully in french. The sun is reaching its lowest point before disapearing behind the hills in the distance, and the cosy garden is slowly becoming tinted with yellow. I can hear a football match being transmited somewhere close, and notice that I am actually standing a hundred meters from the cafe near the station. I wait for a moment, and then head down to catch my train.
Like this story?
Get more! Subscribe to our monthly inspiration newsletter.