Plainly hidden in one of the most popular tourist sites in Sintra, Portugal, is a deep, dark well that may have spiritual meaning. Located in what UNESCO has named a World Heritage Site, this well has become one of the most popular attractions in the area. Its original purpose and use are a mystery, but it has been linked with secret societies and Tarot mysticism.
The well is part of the Quinta da Regaleira
The Quinta da Regaleira, which was also known as “The Palace of Monteiro the Millionaire,” is an estate that belonged to Antonio Augusto de Carvalho Monteiro. Monteiro was not only from a wealthy family but was also a successful merchant. He purchased the property in 1892.
Monteiro employed architect Luigi Manini to design an array of buildings for the property, including the palace itself, a chapel, and various statues located throughout the estate’s grandiose park. Construction on the various buildings began in 1904 and wrapped up around 1910.
Following Monteiro’s death in 1920, the property remained in the family until 1987, when it was purchased by the Japanese Aoki Corporation. At this point, the estate was no longer used as a residence but was closed off to the public for a decade.
It wasn’t until 1997 that the Quinta da Regaleira came under the ownership of the Sintra Town Council. The following year, the Council opened the estate to the public, and it remains accessible today.
There are actually two wells on the property
Along with the several buildings on the property, Monteiro had Manini design a well to serve a very unique purpose. In fact, there are two wells that were built once Monteiro began construction on the quinta. However, neither well was ever intended to be used for water collection.
One of the wells has been named the “Unfinished Well.” It appears to have been simply built, especially when compared to the other. It is the smaller of the two, and contains a straight staircase connecting each circular floor to another. There is nothing adorning the walls of this well, making it appear as though it could have been used as a water source.
The more intricate well has been named the “Initiation Well.” This houses a 27-meter spiral staircase with several landings and is adorned with stone arches and pillars. This gives it a far more luxurious appearance. Instead of a usable well, the Initiation Well looks more like a tower that was dug into the ground.
At its bottom, the circular floor is colored with tiles in what appears to be the shape of a compass. Interestingly, both wells are connected by a series of tunnels. One of these tunnels exits out from underneath the Portal of the Guardians, which is another significant stone monument on the property.
What is also impressive about the wells is that they are exquisite inside, but from their entrances, they appear to be nothing but ordinary piles of rocks.
Theories suggest a spiritual purpose of the Initiation Well
Although the purpose of the Initiation Well has never been definitively determined, there have been several theories provided that ultimately gave it its name. Monteiro is said to have been a notable Freemason, and the well was intended for ceremonial use.
Several other references to Freemasonry, Rosicrucianism, and the Knights Templar have been found throughout the property, and many speculate that the ornate well was strongly linked to their practices. In fact, the tiles at the base of the well are believed to be symbolic of the cross of the Knights Templar.
The Initiation Well is said to have a strong spiritual meaning as well. The staircase has nine levels, each separated by landings and connected by 14 steps. The numbers are believed to be references to Tarot mysticism, as well as Dante’s Divine Comedy, which included the nine circles of Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise.
Initiation rites may have taken place here
Monteiro is believed to have held initiation rites for the Freemasons at the well. After a candidate was blindfolded, they began their initiation ritual. “Holding a sword close to their heart, they would descend nine flights of stairs – a number that represents the nine founders of the Templar order,” BBC Travel describes.
After the candidate successfully reached the bottom of the well, they then had to navigate their way through the tunnel system to both literally and spiritually find their way toward the light. “If they were able to make [it] back through the well tower and into the sunlight, initiates would walk across stones in water to reach the chapel, where they would then be welcomed into the brotherhood.”
However, there is little evidence to suggest that this is truly what went on in the Initiation Well. Regardless, we have been left with an outstanding piece of architecture that continues to mystify visitors.