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Initiation Well in Quinta da Regaleira – A Knights Templar Mystery? (2024)

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Quinta da Regaleira is an enchanting estate in Sintra that was built by an eccentric freemason, António Augusto Carvalho Monteiro.

The most famous feature is the mysterious Initiation Well that many believe was used for Masonic Initiation rituals linked to the Knights Templar. 

These ceremonies would include descending a spiral staircase blindfolded into an underground labyrinth, finding a way from darkness to the light and ultimately being reborn into the brotherhood.

Many people believe the mysticism of this well has links to the occult and could even be a gateway to hell. The only way to find out is to experience the journey yourself (if you dare)!

This elaborate estate was one of my favourite experiences in Sintra and is sure to transport you to another realm.

Here is a complete guide for visiting Quinta da Regaleira and all the mysteries surrounding the Templar-inspired Initiation Well.

Quinta da Regaleira
Palacio da Regaleira
Quinta de Regaleira Initiation Well Sintra
Initiation Well

Quinta da Regaleira history 

There is not much recorded about the history of this estate before Carvalho Monteiro bought the property of Baroness da Regaleira at a public auction in 1893. 

Monteiro was a wealthy coffee producer born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He moved to Portugal and became one of the wealthiest businessmen in the country.

He studied at Coimbra University and was obsessed with spirituality and natural science with a particular affinity for Hermeticism.

Monteiro later bought land in Sintra for a dream project to create a gothic mansion with a large garden containing a chapel along with towers, grottos and fountains.

Quinta de Regaleira

He hired the set designer and architect Luigi Manini to help him create a spiritual wonderland that was a riot of styles and symbolism.

The construction started in 1904 and wasn’t completely finished until 1910. It was nicknamed “The Palace of Monteiro the Millionaire.”

The estate was filled with Gothic, Renaissance and Manueline architecture and themes of alchemy, Christianity, Greco-Roman mythology and Rosicrucianism.

Monteiro was believed to be a member of the Freemasons, an order closely linked to the Knights Templar. It’s thought that this is why the famous Initiation Well was constructed.

Quinta de Regaleira
Feunte of Abundance Sintra

The Initiation Well & Knight’s Templar myth 

The most mysterious part of Monteiro’s estate is the 27-metre-deep Initiation Well with its spiral staircase, nine levels, a plethora of archways and a masonic rose cross on the floor.

The reason why this well gets its name is because it’s thought to have been used, not for the collection of water but for Masonic Initiation ceremonies.

Sintra was once a home for the Knights Templar as they were granted refuge here by Alfonso Henriques, the first King of Portugal.

The zealous crusaders assisted in expelling the Moors in the 12th century and so were richly rewarded by the king for their efforts. 

Most notably Tomar, the ‘Templar City’, was the former seat of the Knights Templar in Portugal and they built the Templar stronghold the Convent of Christ. 

Moorish Castle Sintra
Moorish Castle

Their footprint in Sintra and links to the Moorish Castle is why Monteiro was so intent on owning property here as he had links to the Freemasons.

Many people believe his affinity was simply a fascination with the brotherhood with its spirituality and symbols. Others believe that Monteiro was a member of the Freemasons along with Manini.

Although it’s never been proven, the Initiation Well is thought to have been used for Masonic ceremonies.

These initiation rituals would include the candidate being blindfolded and walking down the well with a sword clutched to his chest. 

He would then enter an underworld of tunnels where he would need to find his way from darkness to the light and be reborn into the brotherhood! 

Sintra Initiation Well
Initiation Well
Initiation Well

Symbols of the Initiation Well

The architecture of this mysterious well and its myriad of symbolism have resulted in countless rumours about what it was used for over the years.

From Knights Templar Masonic rituals, Tarot mysticism and Dante’s Nine Circles of Hell – the conspiracy theories and occult connections are endless.

You can’t blame visitors as the well does look (and feel) like a portal to another realm. 

Initiation Well Sintra

A spiral staircase 

The first thing to note is the spiral staircase that leads you down the inverted tower and stretches 27 metres into the underbelly of the estate. 

Spirals in spirituality usually mean a journey of evolution and growth. It also represents a connection with the cosmos and a link between heaven, earth and hell. 

There is also a connection to the theory of the labyrinth where your pilgrimage inside one will result in a rebirth. 

In Templar Initiations the candidate would descend while experience deep reflection and discovery.

Sintra Initiation Well

Nine levels

There are nine levels in the Initiation Well that you need to traverse to reach the bottom and each has 15 steps. 

There are many theories about why this particular number was chosen. 

One is that the nine levels represent the nine founders of the Knights Templar in 12th-century Jerusalem. 

Occultists say that these nine levels represent Dante’s Nine Circles of Hell in his divine comedy “Inferno”. Many people believe this is a symbolic stairway to Hell. 

Others say that this relates to the Ninth House in Astrology and/or number nine Minor Arcana cards in Tarot. 

Either way, the ‘knight’ would descend these nine levels blindfolded clutching a sword to his chest. He would have no idea where he was or what he would encounter on the way down.  

Sintra Initiation Well

Knights Templar Cross

As you peer down into the bottom of the well, you’ll see a Knights Templar Cross on the floor.

It’s entwined with a compass that is represented by an eight-pointed star, Rosy Cross or compass rose.

This is meant to be Carvalho Monteiro’s coat of arms and it has strong links to Rosicrucian and Freemasonry symbolism.

Sintra Initiation Well

Eastern Grotto & Lake of the Waterfall

At the end of this Masonic ceremony, the ‘knight’ would descend into a dark underworld. These were a series of tunnels and caves known as the Eastern Grotto.

It would be pitch black even without the blindfold and they would need to find their way back to the light.

If they were successful, they would traverse several stepping stones on the Lake of the Waterfall symbolising Christ’s walking on water. 

The initiation would end at the crypt under the chapel and they would ultimately be reborn into the brotherhood from the ‘womb of Mother Earth’. 

Sintra Easter Grotto Quinta de Regaleira
Lake of the Waterfall Quinta de Regaleira Sintra
Lake of the Waterfall

Unfinished Well 

Although the Initiation Well is the most famous, there are actually two wells in Quinta de Regaleira which are connected by the tunnel system. 

The second is nicknamed ‘The Unfinished Well’ or ‘Imperfect Well’ and is the smaller of the two. There are also no steps to walk down and explore. 

No one knows why this well was unfinished and if there were plans to later include it in the Knights Templar rituals. 

But, it’s still worth having a peer down the Unfinished Well from the top level on your visit! 

Unfinished Well Sintra

How to visit the Initiation Well in Sintra 

Initiation ceremonies no longer take place here but you can experience a journey down this mysterious well in Sintra Hills, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Portugal.

This is close to the capital city of Lisbon and makes a great day trip from the city. You can take a train journey from Rossio station and the journey takes around 40 minutes.

Quinta de Regaleira is easily accessed on a 15-minute uphill walk from Sintra Historic Centre and can be found on Rua Barbosa do Bocage.

Note that there is no parking at the site. There is plenty of off-road parking nearby but these are usually high in demand. It may be easier to park in the centre and walk up. 

Sintra Initiation Well

Once you enter the estate, you’ll find the entrance of the Initiation Well at the top of the gardens and it’s quite a steep walk up. 

As it’s the most popular attraction here, there will be signs pointing you to the well the entire way. 

Due to overcrowding, the well now works on a one-way system where you can only walk down the well and there is usually a long queue to visit at peak times.

Knights Templar Initiation Well Sintra

Walking down the well…to hell? Or, another realm!

As I knew that this place could get really busy and see long queues with security ushering you down, I decided to leave visiting the Initiation Well until last.

I got there around 40 minutes before closing and I walked through the queue line to find that there was hardly anyone else inside and I pretty much had the place to myself.

This was great for getting lots of empty photos and videos but I have to admit that this place does have a mysterious vibe that is quite ominous when you’re alone. 

As I descended the spiral staircase and passed through the nine circles, I couldn’t help but think I was on a journey to the underworld or another realm entirely. 

Sintra Initiation Well

With the lighting gradually getting darker, gnarled branches overhead, the constant drip of water and moss-covered walls, it’s easy to see why this place is thought to be a place of occult and masonry. 

When I neared the bottom, it started to get really dark and I had to get my phone torch out so I could see what I was doing and didn’t slip on the soaked steps. 

You can’t enter the bottom of the well these days but you can easily make out the masonic cross on the stone floor from the upper levels. 

Sintra Initiation Well

Luckily, the labyrinthine tunnels were lit up by trails of fairy lights and I could find my way to the Lake of the Waterfall easily from there and emerge out into the light! 

It’s good to note that you can’t traverse the stepping stones anymore. It’s still wonderful to admire the waterfall through the cave and explore th Eastern Grotto after your visit to the well.

I didn’t feel reborn from my journey but it definitely felt like I had entered a fairytale world for a spell. This well was easily one of the highlights of my visit to Sintra. 

Sintra Initiation Well Eastern Grotto

Opening hours & ticket prices

Quinta de Regaleira is open daily in Sintra from 10 am with a last entry time of 5.30 pm all year. The only exceptions are Jan 1st and the 24th, 25th and 31st December.

Closing time depends on the season. From October – March it closes at 6.30 pm but from April – September it closes at 7.30 pm. 

Prices are €12 for an adult, €7 for children aged 6-17 and €7 for seniors. Children up to 5 get in for free and seniors over 80 also get free entry.

You can buy your tickets online before you go and this may be best as the ticket office queues can be long.

If you have a Lisbon Card or a Youth Card you can get 20% off the entry fee. 

Sintra Initiation Well

The best time to visit the Initiation Well in Sintra

Beyond Pena Palace, the Initiation Well is the most famous attraction in Sintra so you can expect it to be crowded throughout the year. 

When I arrived at the well, I saw a theme park-style queue line that had been placed at the entrance to let you know how long your wait would be from certain points.

The end of the line said that the wait was 60 minutes long (!) and this was on a weekday in March. I dread to think of the queues in the summertime.

Sintra Initiation Well

Another thing is that when the well is busy, there’s no time to stop for photos. Security will keep ushering you on and you’re basically cattle prodded to keep moving!

I would visit the well around 30-45 minutes before closing time. This is what I did and there was hardly anyone there and no ushering.

I got some lovely empty photos this way and it was a much better experience. You could really feel the mystery as you descend and how it would feel to go through an initiation!

Sintra Initiation Well

Top Sintra Travel Resources

  • Don’t forget travel insurance, I always use World Nomads

Other things to do in Quinta da Regaleira

Lots of people visit Quinta da Regaleira for the Initiation Well and make a beeline there without exploring the rest of the mansion and gardens.

This is such a shame as the estate has so much to offer visitors beyond the well. I spent hours here exploring the site and every corner had something stunning to see. 

It was like a lush fantasy land with a labyrinth of grottos, lakes, fountains, towers and caves. Make sure to leave enough time to enjoy your visit and experience all the magic it has to offer. 

Here are all the amazing things to do in Quinta da Regaleira;

Palacio de Regaleira
Palacio de Regaleira

Regaleira Palace 

The gardens are incredibly impressive but Palacio de Regaleira is a delightful mix of majestic Manueline and Gothic influences. 

Every inch of this palace has ornate carving work and symbolism with pavilions, galleries and gazebos. 

Visitors are allowed to take a brief tour. Despite there being five floors in total, you’re only allowed to visit the rooms on the ground floor today on a regular visit. 

According to the website, the upper floors are now only open on special exhibition days.

Palacio de Regaleira

You can see the Hunting Room, Dining Room, Living Room, Billiard Room and pretty salons which all have gorgeous woodwork, vaulted ceilings, stucco work and frescos. 

Most of the rooms don’t have furniture inside but exhibitions and information on the history of the palace. I loved their Kings of Portugal exhibit!

Palacio de Regaleira Dining Room

It can be quite busy inside the mansion with security ushering you through if it’s a particularly congested day. You can go back around though at a quieter time if you miss anything.

You exit the palace on the lower balcony and can walk down to the front lawn. This has access to another cave tunnel gallery with more grottos and wells to find inside!

Palacio de Regaleira
Palacio Regaleira Courtyard

Regaleira Chapel

Near the mansion, you can visit the Romantic Regaleira Chapel which has frescoes, stained glass windows and images of Christ’s Resurrection.

On the floor, you’ll find many symbols that represent the era of Portugal Discoveries as well as the Cross of the Order of Christ.

If you look up to the ceiling at the threshold, you’ll find the Eye of Providence looking down on you. It’s entwined with a four-pointed cross, a symbol often linked to Freemasons.  

On my visit, the Crypt underneath the chapel was closed where the initiation ceremonies would end.

This also has lots of Templar symbolism like a black and white chequered floor that resembles the Templar flag.

Regaleira Chapel Sintra
Regaleira Chapel

Portal of the Guardians & Terrace of Celestial Worlds

You can find the ornate Portal of the Guardians opposite the Terrace of Celestial Worlds in the park.

The portal is flanked by two towers and has two old entrances to the Initiation Well and Unfinished Well which are no longer used.

In the centre, you’ll find a fountain with the theme of Triton who is the God of the Sea. He is joined by sea monsters, shells and fish in the carving work.

You can climb up these towers for views of the Celestial Terrace. It’s so beautiful and looks like a princess tower. The terrace has another octagonal tower that you can climb.

Portal of the Guardians
Portal of the Guardians Quinta de Regaleira

Torre da Regaleira

The Regaleira Tower is well worth exploring on your visit to the gardens. From here, you get incredible panoramic views over the house and estate.

There are quite a few narrow steps to climb to reach the top and I was quite scared I’d fall due to the no-handle bar situation. But, it was well worth the effort in the end!

This tower can get really busy so you may have to be patient in order to get to the top. Or, visit at a quieter time to avoid the queue. 

Torre da Regaleira

Leda’s Cave

After the tower, you can take another winding staircase down towards Leda’s Cave which is directly beneath it.

In Greek mythology, Leda was an Aetolian princess who became a Spartan queen. 

A popular tale is ‘Leda and the Swan’ as Leda was admired by Zeus who seduced her disguised as a swan. 

Their consummation resulted in an egg where Helen of Sparta hatched. Her capture by Paris of Troy was the main instigator of the legendary Trojan War. 

That’s how Leda is presented here in the cave with a statue of a swan at her back. 

Leda's Cave Quinta de Regaleira
Quinta de Regaleira Tower

Promenade of the Gods & Pisoes Loggia

Another interesting area to explore is the Promenade of the Gods where you will find statues from ancient Greek mythology. 

There are lots of connections and symbols related to Ancient Greece and the Freemasons. Dionysus is closely linked to the Dionysiac Artificers.

You will find statues of Fortuna, Venus, Artemis and Hermes amongst others which will lead you to the Pisoes Loggia.

The ornate gateway beside the lake has some gorgeous Azulejo blue tiles inside which makes a great photo opportunity. 

Quinta de Regaleira Azulejo tiles
Lusitana, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Café in Chimera Court 

Out of all the tearooms I visited at the Sintra palaces, the Chimera Café at Quinta da Regaleira was by far the best.

The other cafés are run by Parques de Sintra and I found they all sold the same overpriced mediocre packet sandwiches and snacks. 

The café here had a really great menu of homemade sandwiches, hot food, sweet pastries and drinks at very reasonable prices.

I ordered a ham and cheese croissant here, coffee and dessert and it came to less than 10 euros!

The tearoom can be found just outside the mansion so it provides a great view over the house and gets its name from the Chimera Fountain in the middle. 

Quinta de Regaleira Cafe Chimera Court

How long do you need to visit Quinta da Regaleira?

You could spend hours exploring this fairytale park as there is so much to see and do! There is the mansion to visit, a chapel, grottos, lakes, waterfalls and all manner of towers to climb. 

The Initiation Well is the most popular attraction in the gardens and it’s not uncommon for there to be an hour’s queue to walk down the well in peak season. 

To avoid this, I would visit either early in the day or last thing in the evening. 

I’d say you need to leave at least 2-3 hours minimum to explore Quinta da Regaleira to make sure you don’t miss anything.

Quinta de Regaleira Sintra

Is Quinta da Regaleira & the Initiation Well worth it? 

Yes, Quinta de Regaleira is well worth visiting as the entire place looks like it’s been plucked from the pages of a fairytale.

The palace is incredibly ornate and planned gardens with all the mythological and celestial features make it look out of this world. 

It’s less than a mile from the Sintra Historic Centre and makes the perfect place to visit after Pena Palace and the Moorish Castle.

Don’t skip a visit to the Initiation Well and Quinta da Regaleira in Sintra. In my opinion, this is a must-visit and you won’t regret a thing!

Quinta de Regaleira
Quinta de Regaleira

My top tips for visiting 

Leave lots of time – Quinta de Regaleira is like a labyrinth of caves, grottos and towers. Leave at least a few hours to see it all.

Avoid peak times – around lunchtime, this park can be very busy with guided tours. I’d visit in the early morning or evening for fewer crowds and a better experience. 

Leave the Initiation Well until last – there can often be a large queue for the Initiation Well and if you visit at a busy time you’re ushered down in a single file queue by security with no opportunity to stop for photos. If you leave it until around closing it will be much quieter. 

Watch your step – there are lots of hills, steep steps and uneven ground here and not many safety barriers. Watch your step. A lady on my visit fell and hurt her ankle so an ambulance picked her up!

Quinta de Regaleira Grotto

Buy tickets online – There is often a large queue at the ticket desk. It may be worth booking tickets in advance to save time. They have a QR code to scan at the gate for online tickets but I found that the phone signal wasn’t the best.

Take a photo of the map – you don’t get a map provided but you can take photos of the maps they have onsite. You can download one online but it comes at a small fee. I loved not following a certain direction and just explored the site openly. 

Bring water – there’s a great tearoom here with tasty food and it’s very reasonably priced. But, there are lots of hills and steps in the park so have water on hand. 

Use a phone light – when you get to the bottom of the well it can be really dark and disorientating. I had to use the torch on my phone so I didn’t trip.

Quinta de Regaleira Sintra

Looking for more magical places to visit in Sintra?

Sintra is one of the most magical places I’ve ever visited and the entire place will feel like you’re travelling through a fairytale land.

You’ll find all sorts of grand palaces, ornate gardens and dramatic castles built on rolling emerald hills with views of the Atlantic Ocean.

Although the most famous attraction is Pena Palace, there are so many magical things to do in Sintra. You could easily spend weeks here and not see everything. 

Attractions are all based on steep hills and travelling to each attraction can be a challenge with public transport.

So, I’d recommend at least 2 days in Sintra in order to see everything at a relaxed pace.

Click here to read the very best things to do in Sintra

Monserrate Palace Garden Arched Terrace
Park and Palace of Monserrate

Pena Palace & Park 

The main attraction of Sintra is hands down Pena Palace and Park as it’s a beautiful romantic castle founded by Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha who married Queen Maria II.

It has a history since the 12th century as a monastery but was then transformed into a dreamy palace with Ferdinand II’s fortune. 

Today, this fairytale castle and gardens attract millions of tourists each year and it’s a must-visit. 

Before you even plan your trip to Sintra, I would make sure your tickets are booked for Pena Palace as it’s not uncommon for tickets to sell out weeks in advance. 

Pena Palace Sintra
Pena Palace, Sintra

I’d recommend the first time slot of the day to avoid queueing. Even on a weekday in March, the crowds were unbelievable. 

Then, you need to plan how you’re going to get here as it’s located high on a hillside. There are buses from Sintra town but I’d recommend a taxi or Uber as the buses are usually full.

After you enter the park, the walk up to the palace can be quite steep but it’s manageable with a reasonable level of fitness. 

After your palace visit, you can then wander around the extensive Pena Park and see all its beautiful features like the Chalet of Countess Edla, Greenhouses, Stables, fountains and Valley of the Lakes!

Pena Palace Sintra
Triton Gateway

Moorish Castle

After you visit Pena Palace Park, it’s just a couple of minutes’ uphill walk to the Moorish Castle from the Valley of the Lakes.

The Moors lived in Sintra for centuries until 1147 and then the rule was handed over to Afonso Henriques, the first King of Portugal.

They left behind this gorgeous ruin built on the hillside and you can pay a visit to traverse the ancient walls with panoramic views over Sintra and Pena Palace! 

I will warn you, this is not a place to go if you’re afraid of heights or have bad balance. 

As much as I loved exploring this castle, there were barely any safety barriers, lots of steep steps, uneven ground and narrow pathways. 

I panicked a few times and had to take breather breaks as I was terrified, especially with the high winds and crowds. I had a white knuckle death grip on that crenelation! Just take your time and go slowly.

It may be worth purchasing tickets online before you go as there can be long queues for the ticket machines. There was only one working on my visit.  

Moorish Castle Sintra
Moorish Castle

Park and Palace of Monserrate

Many people skip the gorgeous Park and Palace of Monserrate in Sintra as it’s a little further afield than the other attractions.

But, I would prioritise this stunning attraction as it’s one of Sintra’s best-kept secrets and sees fewer crowds. 

The estate was largely constructed by Sir Francis Cook, 1st Viscount of Monserrate in the 19th century and has Gothic, Moorish and Romantic influences.

You can visit the stunning palace with its ornate galleries, music room and library. Then, explore the parkland with waterfalls, flowers, ruins and trees from around the world.

This was one of my favourite experiences here as fewer crowds meant it was an oasis in Sintra Hills.  

Click here to read my complete guide for Monserrate Palace & Park

Monserrate Palace Sintra Hidden Gem
Monserrate Palace Gallery

Sintra Historic Centre & National Palace

Most people only spend a day in Sintra from Lisbon and make a beeline to Pena Palace and the castles found around the area.

But, I wouldn’t skip a wander around the vibrant and colourful historic centre either. There are lots of shops, cafés, and museums to visit.

Sintra Historic Centre
Sintra Historic Centre

The Sintra National Palace sits in the centre and it’s a gorgeous museum filled with Azulejo tiled bedrooms, staterooms and kitchens. It was the home of King João I and Queen Philippa of Lancaster.

I particularly loved the Swan Room, Magpie Room and the spectacular Room of the Coats of Arms.

You can then pop into Casa Piriquita to try one of their famous Travesseiro pastries and a coffee!

If you’re looking for places to eat, I would recommend Metamorphoses and Incomum by Louis Santos by the train station. Or, Café Paris near the National Palace.

Sintra is known for its seafood as you’re so close to the Atlantic Ocean and Octopus is usually found on the menu as the catch of the day. 

Sintra National Palace Swan Room
Swan Room, Sintra National Palace
Sintra National Palace
Room of the Coat of Arms

Where to stay in Sintra 

If you’re looking for a truly beautiful place to stay in Sintra then I would recommend the Tivoli Palacio de Seteais. 

It was a palace of the notable Marquis’ of Marialva who hosted Prince Regent John VI and Princess Carlota Joaquina here in 1802. They built a neoclassical arch in their honour.

Tivoli Palacio de Seteais.

Now, it’s a sumptuous 5-star property with rooms and suites overlooking the valley and coast of Cascais and you’ll be treated like royalty during your stay. 

There is also a bar, restaurant, wellness suite and planned gardens to explore at your leisure.

Even if you’re not a guest, I recommend paying a visit to the front courtyard as it has wonderful views over the valley towards the coast. It’s just a few minutes walk from Quinta da Regaleira!

Click here to book your stay at Tivoli Palácio de Seteais

Tivoli Palacio de Seteais

Quinta de Regaleira and Intiation Well FAQs

Who built Quinta de Regaleira? An eccentric freemason called António Augusto Carvalho Monteiro.

Why is it called Initiation Well? It’s thought that this well was used for Knights Templar-style Masonic Initiations instead of collecting water.

How old is the Initiation Well? Construction started in 1904 but wasn’t completed until 1910.

Initiation Well Sintra

Read more of my Portugal travel guides

Palacio da Bolsa – How to visit Bolsa Palace in Porto

Livraria Bertrand – the oldest bookshop in the world

Why you must visit Café A Brasileira in Lisbon

Livraria Lello – magical bookshop in Porto

Was Harry Potter written in Porto’s Café Majestic?

Save Quinta de Regaleira’s Initiation Well for later! 

Knights Templar Sintra Initiation Well Quinta de Regaleira