Ajuda Botanical Garden, Lisbon

With its upper and lower terraces and elegant design, the Ajuda Botanical Garden is a wonderful place to explore horticulture. It's filled with exotic blooms and fascinating fountains. Add to these attractions a grand staircase that acts as a conduit between the garden's two levels, and visitors have plenty of reasons to add this stop to their itinerary.

When this garden was established in the 1760s, Portugal had no other botanical gardens. Accordingly, the gardens at Ajuda were a pioneering adventure. They were also a necessity, as they were used to grow the produce that would be served on the table at the nearby royal palace. The king also expected that his two grandsons could use the gardens as a living schoolroom where they could explore botany and horticulture.

The Ajuda Botanical Garden must have been a wonderful place for gaining an education. Even during its early years, the garden's administrators had collected more than 5,000 plant species from all over the world. Climactic difficulties meant that not all of those species would survive. Nonetheless, the Ajuda garden boasted one of the most diverse collections of plants and trees in Europe during the 18th century.

The garden's original architect, Domenico Vandelli, had a very specific vision for both of the garden's terraces. The lower terrace features walkways lined with boxwood and colorfully blooming plants. The flower beds display the wondrous variety of specimens that have been brought to the garden for study. Vandelli, and is successor Brotero, utilized exacting symmetry in his designs for the terrace, plotting the landscape with geometric precision. His designs demonstrate the far reaching impact of the taste of garden designers in Italy and France during the same period. One of the lower terrace's most interesting features is a large lake that is dominated by the impressive Fountain of the Forty Spouts. The lake is used to grow aquatic plant species.

The upper terrace is no less fascinating, and has been frequently used for scientific and academic ventures. It is here that the greenhouses stand as well as many of the rarer plant species in the collection. Visually stunning, and with some species that have been growing on the site for more than 400 years, the upper terrace is a favorite stop for horticulture enthusiasts from around the globe.

Despite raids by Napoleon's soldiers, a terrible hurricane in the 1940s and a lack of funding at various times, the garden has survived and grown. Today the Ajuda Botanical Garden is beautifully maintained and one of Lisbon's most popular tourist attractions. It is still utilized for educational purposes. Interested visitors may be fortunate enough to tour the gardens on a day when a lecture is scheduled. At almost any time, university students can be seen studying the various species or working in the greenhouses or potting shed. With a wealth of beautiful specimens to photograph and gorgeous views of the Belém neighborhood and the Tejo River below, the Ajuda Botanical Garden is an ideal place to spend a sunny afternoon.


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