As early as 1871, in his early twenties, Carvalho Monteiro traveled to Dresden to meet Otto Staudinger, then the world’s foremost butterfly specialist. A deep, lifelong fascination with the natural sciences ensued.
After marrying and living in Brazil for several years, Carvalho Monteiro landed back in Portugal in 1876 to devote himself to his studies, becoming an active member of the Lisbon Geographical Society and the Portuguese Society of Natural Sciences. With his new wife, he settled in the grand Quintela Palace Farrobo on Lisbon’s stately Rua do Alecrim, where he housed his ever-growing collection of butterflies and moths (then the world’s second-largest), some 10,000 invertebrates, stuffed hummingbirds, art, clocks, iconography, and a vast library.
Around this time (records are minimal, so it is unclear exactly when), it seems that Carvalho Monteiro also became interested in classical mythology and esoteric philosophy. Books from his library point to an interest in alchemy, the medieval quest to formulate an immortality elixir, and Hermeticism
, a philosophy in which wisdom is attained through contemplation of the mysteries of the universe. (Heremetics believed that the physical, mental, and spiritual planes were interconnected.) It’s been noted
that the beliefs of the Freemasons, a secret society that uses symbols and coded language in rituals that have been linked to mysticism, also likely captivated Carvalho Monteiro.
But it wasn’t until Carvalho Monteiro purchased the country estate of Quinta da Regaleira in 1893, when he was in his forties, that he was able to fully express his passions. There, on a densely forested plot of land in Sintra that once belonged to the Baroness de Regaleira, he began to conceive of a temple to nature and spirituality, where the mysteries of the universe could be contemplated, wisdom attained, and magic conjured.
Construction began in 1898, after Carvalho Monteiro found the perfect person to realize his vision: Italian architect and set designer Luigi Manini. Manini was in the process of erecting a palace in the ornate, highly dramatic Manueline-Gothic style, its façade marked by imposing entrances and stone carvings that alluded to tempestuous seas, grand voyages, lionhearted heroes, and classical mythology. Carvalho Monteiro was sold, and enlisted Manini to help him build his Sintra arcadia.