On 26th September, Parques de Sintra opens the Villa Sassetti Pedestrian Footpath that provides access to the National Palace of Pena and the Moorish Castle from the Historical Centre of Sintra. The opening of this route falls within the scope of a global intervention project that includes work on the exterior of the main Villa Sassetti building, the adaptation of the annexes to house toilet facilities with the Keeper’s House converted into a cafeteria (due to open in time for the next peak season) and improvements to the gardens, specifically the pathways, walls, infrastructures, water systems, gateways, fences, signposting and enhancing the existing vegetation with new plantings.
Villa Sassetti is integrated into the Cultural Landscape of Sintra, classified as UNESCO World Heritage. The property lies across the north face of the hills running over a narrow band of land totalling approximately 12,000m2, of which around 200m2 correspond to the set of built properties, that is, the main building, the Keeper’s House and the annexes. The main building stands out for its central circular tower spanning three storeys, out of which extend other constructions with variable geometries, applying Sintra granite as the main exterior finishing material with rows of terracotta characteristic of the Lombard Romanesque, alongside diverse pieces from the antiques collection of the owner. The garden, designed by the architect Luigi Manini, strives to obey a naturalist aesthetic structured around a twisting pathway criss-crossed by an artificial watercourse. The garden expresses the harmonious relationship between architecture and the landscape that seem able to naturally merge into each other.
Victor Carlos Sassetti (1851-1915), owner of the Hotel Braganza, in Lisbon, and the Hotel Victor, in Sintra, was the original owner of the lands that are now the location of the Vila Sassetti. The project was commissioned from his friend, the architect and scenographer Luigi Manini (1848-1936), with the main building, a revivalist recreational home designed as a summer residence, built between 1890 and 1894. Following the death of its owner, the villa was rented to Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian between 1920 and 1955, who occupied it sporadically through to his death. Between 1955 and 1958, the then owner Isabel Armanda Luísa Real ordered the building of the Keeper’s House and expanded the main building adding on the current eastwards wing and installing sanitation facilities. In 1984, the new owner, Sara Gabriel Teixeira Albergaria, undertook some requalification work on the villa and its gardens.
Sintra Municipal Council acquired the property in 2004 and, in 2011, Parques de Sintra purchased both Villa Sassetti and the adjoining property with the objective of preserving both its heritage value and making available a new means of access, via footpath, from the Historical Centre to the National Palace of Pena/the Moorish Castle as an alternative to the Pena ramp. In order to attain this objective, and taking into consideration the advanced state of degradation that Villa Sassetti had entered into, a global multidisciplinary project was designed with implementation beginning in 2014.
The pathway is open daily between 10am and 6pm during the summer season and between 9am and 5pm in the winter.
For the main building, the conservation and restoration work targeted the facades and the external decorative features, including the restoration of the 17th century tile panels.
The annexed buildings, located to the south of the main construction, were converted into sanitation facilities, with toilet installations for both genders in addition to a diaper changing area.
This conservation work also extended to the dovecote and adapting the tool storage area to house a series of automatic sales machines accessible to visitors.
All of the buildings had their roofs repaired in accordance with the original typology. The tiles display a Moorish style with an emphasised archaic influence with each tile being half-moon shaped, arranged into rows with the channels in between cemented to facilitate rainwater flow-off.
In the gardens, this work extended to the replacement of the gravel pavements with granite cobbles and the stone brick walls by granite stone, utilising the construction typologies and materials pre-existing in the gardens. This also included a network of infrastructures, in particular the sewer and water supply systems along with those for irrigation, energy and telecommunications.
The entire garden water system was subject to intervention, including repairs and waterproofing the storage and other water tanks and the artificial watercourse. This proceeded with the harmonisation of the exterior gateways and the doors to the different garden annex buildings, the installation of the necessary handrails and the repositioning of the pergola covering in keeping with photographic records from the early 20th century.
The garden flowerbeds were enhanced through the acquisition of plants characteristic of the 19th century and with the path completed by signposting displaying both directions and information.
The total amount of investment ran to over €617,000, with the project receiving financing of €333,856.41 from QREN, under the auspices of the POR Lisbon Regional Operation Program, stemming from the European Regional Development Fund.