Convent of the Capuchos

Convent of the Capuchos

The Convent of the Capuchos, also called the Convent of the Frairs Minor Capuchin, is a 16th century convent which is characterized by its extremely humble infrastructures. It is part of the Sintra Cultural Landscape World Heritage Site.

Built in the 16th century in an isolated area of Sintra, the convent was home to a small number of Franciscan monks and was comprised of extremely small living quarters and communal areas. Nevertheless over time it became an important religious site, attracting patronage and visits from kings, nobles and travellers from many countries. By the early nineteenth century the convent was very well known and boasted a number of impressive artworks and frescoes.

However, life at the Convent was forever altered in 1834, with the dissolution of the religious orders in Portugal. Following this the site fell into a state of disuse and ruin and suffered greatly through the decades that followed. Despite restoration in the mid-20th century further damage was incurred as recently as 1998 when several artefacts and works of art were stolen.

Today, the Convent has once again been restored and is now part of the Sintra Parks organisation. Visitors can explore the grounds as well as the cramped living quarters and small chapels and prayer halls. Guided tours are also available.

Convent of the Capuchos - History

A visit to the Capuchos Convent often referred to as the Cork Convent, is a step back in time and an experience of an impoverished lifestyle at one with nature. Once occupied by Franciscan monks it was founded in 1560 by Dom Álvaro, a State Councillor to King Sebastião. It was original called the Convento de Santa Cruz da Serra de Sintra. The site embodies the ideals of the Order of St. Francis of Assisi, the search for spiritual harmony by detaching oneself from the world and renouncing the pleasures associated with everyday life. Its austere construction was deliberately made as simple as possible, utilising the lay of the land and natural objects with extensive use of cork as protection and decoration. The landscape surrounding the building was meticulously maintained by the resident monks resulting in the preservation of Sintra's original flora whereas elsewhere in the forest foreign exotic plants were introduced to adorn gardens.

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Carmo Archaeological Museum (Museu Arqueológico do Carmo)

Located in the former main altar is a small archaeological museum with an eclectic collection of tombs, including the two-metre tall stone sepulchre of King Ferdinand I and the tomb of Gonçalo de Sousa, chancellor to Henry the Navigator. Other interesting exhibits include a 15th-century alabaster relief, carved in Nottingham and 16th-century Arabesque azulejos, Visigothic artefacts and ancient coins. Look out for a model of the convent depicting how it looked before the earthquake. Among the more ancient finds is a remnant from a Visigothic pillar and a Roman tomb carved with reliefs depicting the Muses. There are macabre exhibits such as shrunken heads, pre-Columbian South American mummies, and an Egyptian sarcophagus (793–619 BC), the inhabitant’s feet are just visible behind the lid. At the entrance of the museum is a stone engraved with gothic lettering, informing visitors that Pope Clement VII granted 40 days of indulgence to "any faithful Christian" who visits this church.
High Season: Monday – Saturday: 10h00 – 19h00, Low Season: Monday – Saturday: 10h00 – 18h00. Sunday: CLOSED
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The land that is now Quinta da Regaleira had many owners over the years. It belonged to the Viscountess of Regaleira, a family of wealthy merchants from Porto, when it was sold in 1892 to Carvalho Monteiro for 25,000 réis. Monteiro was eager to build a bewildering place where he could collect symbols that reflected his interests and ideologies. With the assistance of the Italian architect Luigi Manini, he recreated the 4-hectare estate.

In addition to other new features, he added enigmatic buildings that allegedly held symbols related to alchemy, Masonry, the Knights Templar, and the Rosicrucians. The architecture Manini designed evoked Roman, Gothic, Renaissance, and Manueline styles. The construction of the current estate commenced in 1904 and much of it was completed by 1910.

The estate was later sold in 1942 to Waldemar d'Orey, who used it as private residence for his extensive family. He ordered repairs and restoration work for the property. In 1987, the estate was sold, once again, to the Japanese Aoki Corporation and ceased to serve as a residence. The corporation kept the estate closed to the public for ten years, until it was acquired by the Sintra Town Council in 1997. Extensive restoration efforts were promptly initiated throughout the estate. It finally opened to the public in June 1998 and began hosting cultural events. In August of that same year, the Portuguese Ministry of Culture classified the estate as "public interest property".

The Regaleira Palace (Portuguese: Palácio da Regaleira) bears the same name as the entire estate. The structure's façade is characterised by exuberantly Gothic pinnacles, gargoyles, capitals, and an impressive octagonal tower.

The palace contains five floors (a ground floor, three upper floors, and a basement). The ground floor consists of a series of hallways that all connect the living room, dining room, billiards room, balcony, some smaller rooms, and several stairways. In turn, the first upper floor contains bedrooms and a dressing room. The second upper floor contains Carvalho Monteiro's office, and the bedrooms of female servants. The third upper floor contains the ironing room and a smaller room with access to a terrace. Finally, the basement contains the male servants' bedrooms, the kitchen (which featured an elevator for lifting food to the ground floor), and storage rooms.

Secrets of the Convent of the Capuchos

Tucked away in a remote part of the Sintra complex is the Convent of the Capuchos, a place shrouded in lush greenery and mystery. When we visited, a light rain had been drizzling since early morning, and the site was covered in a thick mist. This added greatly to its already ethereal vibe, burying the low buildings of the monastery even deeper into nature.

Like Quinta de Regaleira, the architecture was created to subsume into the surrounding nature. The convent and its surroundings have wonderfully mystical origins and gothic narratives, inspiring English romantic poets like Lord Byron, who was captivated by its beauty and isolation.

The convent was established in 1560, and occupied up till the early 1830s, when religious orders in Portugal were suppressed and had their property confiscated. Up until then, it was occupied by reclusive monks and enjoyed royal patronage for over three centuries. One can experience the level of seclusion experienced by these monks, visiting the site today.

Its location, buried in wild, overgrown forest, and its architecture, severely austere and sized for hobbits, make it clear that visitors that arrive do so on the terms of the convent. The rooms available are very small, a fully grown man today would certainly not be able to sleep in one. The doorways were ill sized, even for me (and I’m only five feet tall). Getting around its interior was a challenge.

It was quite eye opening to realise how simply the monks had lived. The site constituted of a small courtyard, small cells for monks and three larger cells for visitors, a library, a refectory connected to the kitchen, an infirmary, two chapels and a latrine. There were no superfluous rooms. Some of the cells were so small that monks had to carve off portions of the wall to accommodate their feet.

In a way, it was both a refuge and a prison. It was not easy to get to now, and must most certainly had been rather inaccessible back then, when it was still in use as a monastery. The overall architecture is starkly utilitarian, a huge contrast to the religious styles in fashion in Europe’s capitals.

Instead of artificial decoration, the monastery utilities the natural beauty around it, allowing the forests of Sintra to determine its aesthetics. Its simple walls and roofs blend subtly into the local landscape, forming a part of the natural rocks and cliffs of the area.

Apart from the austere nature of the monastery, and the ingenious way it is concealed within the forest, another architectural feature of note was the persistent usage of cork in the buildings. The roofs and doors of the place were covered in cork, a good, waterproof insulator from the humidity and cold that permeated the area. It also had the advantage of being available in abundance in the surrounding forests.

The convent today has been wonderfully restored. Its architecture and the surrounding nature have only been interfered with when necessary, and the only “modern” implementation that was obvious when we visited, was the string of lights that guided us through the dark interior of the place.

Its outdoor furniture, however, the stone benches and tables in its courtyard, have been overgrown with moss and creepers, allowing it to further sink into the nature.

One of the most beautiful places we’ve been to, the Convent of the Capuchos has won us over with its isolation and its intimacy with the surrounding nature. While its interiors are mysterious and very foreign, its courtyard is contemplative and welcoming. Disguised in nature, this place is the stuff of fairy tales and myths.

Capuchos Convent

The Capuchos Convent is one of many examples of 16th century Pietistic religiosity in Portugal, and became known for its minimalist construction. During his 1787 account of a visit to the convent, its small size, cells and dormitories lined with cork, and a chapel whose dome is formed out of the rock itself motivated William Beckford to note: "we followed a narrow shortcut over a wild and deserted hill for several miles, to the Capuchos Convent, which at first sight reminds us of Robinson Crusoe's abode." (William Beckford e Portugal. A viagem de uma paixão. Exhibition Catalogue. National Palace of Queluz, 1987, p. 159).

The Convent embodies the ideal of universal fraternity and brotherhood espoused by Franciscan friars. Those who inhabited it belonged to the Arrábida Province of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin.

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The Capuchos Convent was built in 1560 by order of D. Álvaro de Castro, counsellor of State to King Sebastian and controller of the Treasury, fulfilling a vow made by his father, D. João de Castro, the fourth vice-roy of India.

The Convent of Santa Cruz da Serra de Sintra was thus erected in an isolated and inhospitable setting, undoubtedly chosen for its natural conditions.

Like the remaining monument itself, its artistic pieces have been highly degraded by time, but mostly by acts of vandalism.

However, the convent's rustic nature remains unadulterated by the austerity of its seemingly rupestrian structure. When visiting these buildings, we allow ourselves to walk through its corridors carved into the granite blocks, and become enveloped in the twilight of the friars' day-to-day lives. From the Church, one would move on to the Choir, where chants were sung during Mass. Here, we find the corridor leading to cells, accessed through small doorways, which force us to bow down in humility before the intimacy of this place. The other end of the corridor leads to the refectory, where meals were eaten around a stone table, offered by Cardinal D. Henrique as proof of his admiration for this way of life.

The kitchen can be seen through the revolving serving door, and the Novice Cell is found further ahead. The friars' concern with hygiene and cleanliness is patent in the Water House. The house’s daily life also included tasks carried out in the library and the wards. It is possible to walk through the building, from the guest quarters and ending in the Chapter Room.

The vegetation surrounding the convent is the result of forest management policies devised in the mid-19th century. In the past, the location was much more open and sunny, as can be seen in contemporary engravings from when the friars were present. Outside the convent fence, the land was cultivated and animals shepherded. The woods were limited by rocky terrain and the cliff tops. The convent forest, with its old oak trees and large great bushes certainly benefited from the friars' care. The forest survived to the present day, and is likely the most important example of Sintra's old-growth Mountains. This forest comprises a sub-Mediterranean tree formation dominated by oak trees, with elements of Mediterranean maquis shrubland, and many ferns, mosses, epiphyte plants, and creepers that entangle and envelope everything. Notable isolated specimens cultivated by Man include the leafy plane tree covering the convent yard, the old ash tree in the entrance patio, and some unusually large specimens of boxwood along the paths. Due to their rare nature, state of conservation and the remarkable size of many specimens, this forest is of important natural value and must be safeguarded.

Capuchos - Cork Convent in Sintra

It is located in the Sintra area, which is popular and gets busy from midday on. The best time for a visit is in the morning when they open at 9.30 in the high season and 10 in the low season. However, it is still not as crowded as Palacio de Pena or Quinta da Regaleira.

In July and August Sintra is utterly crowded due to the “Three Palace tour”. If you want to visit during the summer, you should go either early or late in the day. Weekends are even busier, and it might be very difficult to find a parking space. Winter is the best time to avoid masses of tourists coming by bus from Lisbon and swarming around. My favourite months are May and September, less hot and busy mostly with a blue sky. However, this time we came at the end of December and experienced 16°C in Lisbon, and 13°C in Sintra. It was sunny around Lisbon for weeks during winter.

  • High season (end of March until the end of Oct.): 9.30 a.m. until 8 p.m. last admission at 7 p.m. Entrance fee: adult 7 €
  • Low season (end of Oct. until the end of March): 10.00 a.m. until 6 p.m. last admission at 5 p.m. Entrance fee: adult 5 € and family 17 € (2 adults and 2 under 18 years)
  • Tip: You get a 5 % discount when buying tickets online

Although Sintra has a different climate to Cascais and Lisbon due to the high elevation summer can be extremely hot with up to 30°C. There is mostly a breeze which is pleasant during summer but be careful in autumn and winter. Weather is more unpredictable from October to March, and more rain occurs. However, it seldom rains the entire week here. Sintra is frequently covered in fog which creates a mystic atmosphere. In winter we often experienced pleasant weather and mild temperatures from mid to end of December.

Convento dos Capuchos

C harming and rather eerie at the same time, this cave-like hermitage was carved from rock in 1560. It’s where Franciscan monks lived until 1834, and where visitors now have something of an “Alice in Wonderland” experience, going through rooms of shockingly tiny dimensions.
The building’s rustic simplicity, with just cork lining the walls for isolation (which has given it the nickname of “Cork Convent”), shows the austerity of the monks, who focused on spirituality and spent their days praying and meditating. It’s a contrast to Sintra’s extravagant palaces, and part of the experience is imagining the lives of the men who lived here.

Originally named Convento de Santa Cruz da Serra da Sintra (“Convent of the Holy Cross of the Sintra Mountain”), it was founded by a nobleman as the fulfillment of a vow that he had made to his father, who was the Portuguese viceroy of India. After his travels in Asia, he wanted a place that followed the ideals of the Order of St. Francis of Assissi, meaning the search for spiritual perfection and the renouncement of the pleasures of earthly life.

The convent is perfectly integrated into the natural environment, incorporating gigantic granite boulders into its construction. Outside it had a vegetable garden, while inside it was divided into tiny chapels, a kitchen, a library, a nursery, and just eight cells with stone beds and not much else. Eight monks lived in it at a time, and despite the humble conditions, one of them is reported to have lived up to the age of 100, which was almost unheard of at the time.

In 1873 it was bought by Francis Cook, who also acquired the Monserrate Palace nearby, and it became property of the Portuguese State in 1949. The original construction remains intact, and was restored in 2001, when it opened to the public.
A typical visit lasts about one hour, and it’s never crowded, as this is one of Sintra’s least visited attractions.


The sacristy contains stunning wall paintings and a decorated ceiling along with statues of the crucified Christ.

The chapel has an Iberian pipe organ, a high choir and exquisite, decorative, gilded, wood carving.

The interior was extensively and painstakingly restored before being opened to the public.

The restorations closely followed the original design by the architect José Luís Nogueira in the second half of the 19th century.

Wall panels explain how the restoration was carried out and can be seen here and there in the building.

Ornate doorway and tile work, Convento de Santo António dos Capuchos

Pipe organ, Convento de Santo António dos Capuchos

Capuchos Convent

The Franciscan spirit at one with nature. At Capuchos you will discover a convent which dates back to the 16 th century.

The Convent at Santa Cruz da Serra embodies the universal ideals of fraternity and brotherhood inherent in the values held by the Fransiscan priests who inhabited it.

Once here, it is easy to cast your mind back and imagine the lives that these men lived.

The last wishes of an illustrious noble with a brilliant career in the Orient were to build a Franciscan convent at the very heart of the Sintra hills, in direct contact with nature and in keeping with a philosophy of extreme architectural and decorative simplicity.

The Capuchos Convent, also known as the “Cork Convent”, was founded in 1560 by Dom Álvaro de Castro, a State Councillor to King Sebastião, with the name of Convento de Santa Cruz da Serra de Sintra, and was placed in the hands of Franciscan friars in fulfilment of a vow that he had made to his father, Dom João de Castro, the fourth viceroy of India.

The convent is remarkable for the extreme poverty of its construction and the extensive use of cork in the protection and decoration of its tiny spaces, thus embodying the ideals of the Order of St. Francis of Assisi: the search for spiritual perfection by removing oneself from the world and renouncing the pleasures associated with earthly life. The extremely small convent was built in respect for harmony between the human construction and the pre-existing natural elements: the divine construction. Its rustic appearance and great austerity are indissociable from the surrounding vegetation, since the building is completely integrated into the natural environment, to the extent that enormous granite boulders have been incorporated into its construction

For several centuries, the woodland surrounding the building was cared for and maintained by the monks who lived in the convent, so that it survived the gradual deforestation of the Sintra hills. It therefore constitutes a remarkable example of the region’s original forest and the composition of its flora can be easily identified by visitors who follow the botanical route that is proposed for their enjoyment. Because of the rarity, state of conservation and size of some of the examples that can be found here, this wood represents a significant natural heritage that urgently needs to be safeguarded.

The convent’s extremely small cells, corridors and doors, the humility that one feels when faced with the intimacy and bare simplicity of the place, the penumbra in which these monks conducted their daily lives and the beautiful views that can be enjoyed from here over the Sintra hills, are unique experiences that have left a profound impression on all those who come here to visit the site.

In 1581, King Filipe I of Portugal (Filipe II of Spain) visited the hermitage, making at that time his famous statement that, in all of his kingdoms, the two places that he most appreciated were El Escorial, because of its wealth, and the Capuchos Convent, because of its poverty:

In all of my kingdoms, there are two things I have that greatly please me, El Escorial because it is so rich and the Convent of Santa Cruz because it is so poor.

The convent was abandoned in 1834, when the liberal regime ordered the suppression of the religious orders, and was subsequently bought, in 1873, by Francis Cook, the first Viscount of Monserrate, and, in 1949, by the Portuguese State.

The Capuchos Convent forms part of the Cultural Landscape of Sintra, classified by UNESCO as World Heritage since 1995.

Opening Hours and Entrance Fees:

Convento dos Capuchos
38º 46’ 58,48” N
9º 26’ 08,86” W

Watch the video: Capuchos Convent and Peninha Hermitage