Historical notes about the National Hunting Grounds of Mafra
King João V, “the Magnanimous” (1689-1750), commissioned the construction of the Palace-Convent in the town of Mafra to meet a promise he made prior to the Queen making him heir to the throne.
This grandiose monument, built at a time of great royal prosperity resulting from the exploration of gold and diamonds in Brazil, represents a high-water mark in the Portuguese Baroque.
The National Hunting Grounds of Mafra were established in 1747 with the objective of providing surroundings appropriate to the Monument along with providing a recreational hunting ground for the King and his Court and in addition to supplying firewood and other products to the Convent.
Covering an area of 1,187 hectares, the Royal Hunting Grounds of Mafra were entirely surrounded by a worked limestone wall across a length of 16 Km.
The Hunting Grounds were divided into three separate sections by two walls built in 1828, with the first, taking up some 360 hectares, given over to military administration.
Ever since the 18th century and through to the declaration of the Republic, the Royal Hunting Grounds of Mafra proved a favoured site for the leisure and hunting of Portuguese monarchs even while it was during the reigns of Luís (1861-1899) and Carlos (1899-1908) that the Hunting Grounds saw their golden era as a hunting park.
With the arrival of the Republic, the location was renamed the National Hunting Grounds of Mafra and in usage fundamentally for either hunting or state acts of protocol.
As from 1941, the lands were subject to a total forestry regime under the supervision of the General Directorate of Forestry and Agricultural Services with its management then approached from a more environmental perspective.
In 1993, the Hunting Grounds were leased to ENDAC – the National Company for Agricultural and Hunting Development, an entirely state owned entity under the auspices of the Ministry of Agriculture.
As from 1998, a Public Interest Cooperative was founded to best leverage the resources of the Hunting Grounds with the state holding a majority stake in partnership with Mafra Municipal Council and private entities.
THE COURT AND HUNTING
The Hunting Grounds as a royal game reserve for the monarchs of the 18th to the 20th centuries
The importance of hunting in these grounds reaches back to their very foundation in1747.
Due to its natural propensities as a forested area with strong game potential, the royal household found this place to be especially rich for hunting and leisure and conferring it with a very noble ambience that is still today preserved and continued.
The practice of hunting has been bound up with human nature ever since pre-historic times before evolving into an activity whether essential to human survival or at least to complementing the prevailing diet and then finally changing into a recreation and leisure activity associated with a taste for close contact with nature and the management of animal species.
Proving today a significantly important economic activity and popular across the social strata, there were times when hunting was restricted to the upper classes – the aristocracy and royalty who retained extensive hunting grounds and game reserves for their own exclusive usage.
Hunting thus became a symbol of power on the one hand and with this practice of defeating physically more powerful animals constituting a means of physical preparation for military combat on the other hand.
During the reign of João V, the monarch who had the Convent built and laid out the Hunting Grounds of Mafra, there was a sharp uptake in the national manufacture of firearms and hunting guns in a practice that continued during the reign of his son José I.
As these hunting weapons gradually became distinct to weapons of war, they became subject to ornamentation and reflecting both the economic power and the tastes of its owner.
Mafra, due to its proximity to the Court in Lisbon, provided, along with Salvaterra de Magos, a favoured site for hunting by all the kings and queens in the Houses of Bragança, in particular João V and José I, as well as Maria I and João VI, Pedro II, Fernando, Luís and Carlos.
The tradition was hunting by beating or on horseback with the shooting taking place at short distances with the prey in movement.
The introduction of the rifle into Portuguese hunting practice came about via Ferdinand Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (husband of Queen Maria II), German in origin, a major hunter and renowned weapons collector who conveyed to his sons, Pedro and Luís, this pleasure in hunting and natural values
Luís I, who ruled for 28 years, demonstrated his own interest both in nature and in hunting, and well beyond some simple pleasure and also passed on to his own son, the future King Carlos I, the foundations that would see the latter become a notable naturalist, oceanographer, hunter and photographer and, for example, frequently recording the hunting parties he participated in.
Carlos was ranked as a great hunter not only due to the number of animals slain or the time spent hunting but above all due to his attitude towards hunting and the ways in which he integrated hunting into other fields of knowledge and vice versa.
He also stood out in the cultural circles of his times as a notable painter and setting down on canvas the emotions experienced through his contacts with the fields and the seas.
Carlos was also an enthusiastic regular at the Hunting Grounds of Mafra, in a taste and habit shared with his wife Queen Amélia, and they go down in the history of the Hunting Grounds as their most emblematic figures.