Among the many palaces I was lucky to visit over years, discovering Quinta do Santiago in Leça da Palmeira some weeks ago was by far the most imaginative and memorable experience. And I think experience is the keyword here! Not the investment or state-of-the-art equipment, because this cost just some good will, creativity and an elegant suit (but no, the visitors were not expected to be in suits).
The strange visiting hours were the first twist, as we were supposed to appear (in whichever clothes) at 9.30 p.m. And then, we became part of a play! One of the three organized in Quinta de Santiago in a year. This time, the charismatic Joel Cleto was the main character, and the play was about him as an elegantly dressed butler, leading us through the noble family’s house. Revealing its secrets, Cleto was intertwining stories about the family members, urban history of Leça and building of the great port of Leixões, and the broader context of Portuguese history.
The palace was interesting anyway, researched and restored carefully, but no written or audio guide could compare to this way of telling the story, nor inform so well. And the great thing is, Joel Cleto is an expert, in acting as much as in history & heritage.
By the way, the house was built in eclectic style by the Italian architect Nicola Bigaglia in late 19th century. The architect just gave proper form to the ideas of the owner, João Santiago de Carvalho e Sousa, who was educated in fine arts. And obviously passionate about every little detail of his home!
For example, the house has an excellent ventilation system, so besides being pleasing for the eye and the sense of touch (photos cannot reproduce the variety of materials and textures used!), it is also very fresh and dry and simply … lacks that smell of old houses where windows are rarely open!
The old photo of the owner comes from here: http://en.cm-matosinhos.pt/PageGen.aspx?WMCM_PaginaId=27819
In regard to the insider views from the event, I called M. for photos! A big, big thanks*