Landscape developments over the period from the founding of the Hunting Grounds through to the end of the 19th century
In 1747, when João V ordered the construction of the National Hunting Grounds of Mafra, the lands were then described as occupied by houses, fields, logging, vineyards, gorse and brush.
In addition to the hunting function, the grounds also served as the location for the plantation of orchards for the benefit of the nuns and for the growing of medicinal plants and woody vegetation above all to supply the Convent.
Despite a lack of conclusive evidence, it is believed that the Hunting Grounds were divided into three from the outset: the first Hunting Ground spanned an area of 360 hectares and with a heavy prevalence of agriculture seeing it given over to horticultural production and pasture; the second Hunting Ground primarily served a forestry purpose to ensure the regular supply of firewood; and the third Hunting Grounds was essentially given over to the actual practice of hunting. The latter two both covered an area of 819 hectares with a remaining 8 hectare site, adjoining the Convent, containing a garden that still remains to today, the Cerco Garden.
The inner and outer walls run a length of 21km.
In 1778, the Convent’s Ruling Cannons of Saint Augustine made a request of Queen Maria that she grant them some land on which to grow more pines as firewood consumption had risen and the Hunting Grounds no longer provided sufficient wood to supply both the Convent and the Royal College of Mafra.
Queen Maria I decreed the growing of pines in an area now known as the Pinewood of the Nuns.
In 1780, the Hunting Grounds saw their first successful planting as, according to a 1787 description by Beckford, there were already stretches of stone pine (Pinus pinea).
In the “social restoration of the country” period, in 1843, Alexandre Herculano referred to how “three years ago, Their Majesties had ordered the taming of these unworked lands. (…) In addition to the Cultivation made at the cost of the Royal Household, there are being distributed among the inhabitants of the town of Mafra lands to those wishing to work them. The entirety of the returns from these lands belongs for three years to whoever converts the brush that was into arable land” (Rego, 2006).
Agriculture in the Hunting Grounds was a recognised advantage not only for the profits made from leasing the land but also the improvements to pasture lands as well as raising the numbers working the lands and thus avoiding “the scandalous excess of hunters intruding over the walls and hunting all of the species to death” (Roussado Gorjão, 1838 in Rego, 2006).
In 1843, Alexandre Herculano referred to the existence of “small maritime pines” as the method for the future as they served to break the northwesterly winds and along with the planting of berry and fruit trees, especially olive trees.
There is a reference to the planting of 650 olive trees and of these, Roussado Gorjão stated in 1834 that some 361 had survived and thus we also grasp how silviculture management practices had already undergone some development.
In 1840, under the reign of King Fernando, the Royal Stud Farm of Mafra was established within the extent of the hunting grounds and remained in effect through to its abolition on 23rd September 1859. Nevertheless, the first section of the Hunting Grounds has been under military rule since 1890.
Despite the 1911 proposal, advocating that the Hunting Grounds of Mafra be entirely handed over to the Forestry Service, this not only never happened but also during World War One (1914-1918) the grounds experienced widespread destruction of their forested area for the purposes of profit.
Rego, F.C. (2006). Tapada de Mafra – Uma história natural. General Directorate of Forestry Resources, Lisbon, 83 pp.