The origin of Serralves Park dates back to 1923 when Carlos Alberto Cabral, the 2nd Count of Vizela, inherited the Quinta do Lordelo estate, the family’s summer residence in the Rua de Serralves (which was then on the outskirts of Oporto). The estate’s history can be divided into three key periods: the contours of the garden at the end of the 19th century when it formed part of the Quinta do Lordelo and Quinta do Mata-Sete estates, the garden designed by Jacques Gréber for Serralves Villa, and the landscaping of the Museum of Contemporary Art.
The garden of the Quinta do Lordelo estate was probably designed by one of the city’s nursery gardeners and was inspired on late 19th century Victorian models. The garden was built around the rear part of the house, with organically shaped flower-beds, enriched with ornamental species.
With an area that was significantly smaller than the present area, the property was successively enlarged by the Count of Vizela through acquisition of the adjacent lands, in an acquisition process that continued until the 1940s, thereby establishing the current extension of 18 hectares.
The Quinta do Mata-Sete estate, also owned by the family and inherited by the Count of Vizela’s brother, was included within this enlargement process by swapping urban properties for land, in order to extend the state. When the estate was included within the property, it already featured several buildings – a hunting pavilion, a barn, olive press and farm manager’s house.
After visiting the 1925 International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts in Paris, Carlos Alberto Cabral decided to carry out an intervention in the estate. He invited the architect, Jacques Gréber to design the new garden. The project, whose designs date from 1932, is characterised by a mildly Art Deco, modernised classicism, influenced by French gardens of the 16th and 17th centuries, integrating several elements of the original garden, in particular the lake, together with the farming and irrigation structures of the properties acquired in the interim period.
The Serralves Garden, as designed by Jacques Gréber, was considered to be one of the first examples of gardening art in Portugal of the first half of the twentieth century, and was the only garden built during this period by a private individual in Portugal, on the basis of a landscape architecture project.
After the property was sold, in the early 1950s, to Delfim Ferreira, Count of Riba d’Ave, the Park remained its overall structure to the present day. After the Portuguese State acquired the property in 1986, several interventions were made in order to resolve the most urgent situations and enabled the park to be opened to the public in a staggered fashion, under the supervision of the landscape architect, Teresa Andresen a member of the Installation Committee who then assumed the position of Park Director after the Foundation was set up.
The birth of the Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art, in 1996 represented another key moment in the history of the Park, via a new intervention in the landscape. The museum was installed in a lateral portion of land, formely occupied by a vegetable garden and orange grove and was overseen by the landscape artist, João Gomes da Silva (with the collaboration of Erika Skabar), who was invited by Álvaro Siza Vieira. The history of the place, its sustainability and topography were structural elements in the project that took into account the presence of the new building and its programme and uses.
Serralves is a unique reference within Portugal’s landscape gardening history and symbolises a process of learning and knowledge of the conditions of transformation of the territory, in terms of space and time during a specific cultural context: Portugal and the 19th and 20th centuries. Serralves Park, that was opened to the public in 1987, after preparation and recovery works, was subject to a Recovery and Enhancement Project that commenced in 2001 and ended in 2006. This Project constitutes a significant contribution to education and raising society’s awareness concerning the importance of protecting landscape heritage, and the need to conciliate heritage space with cultural manifestations and processes determined by contemporary society, without undermining its integrity and permanence. Serralves Park has won two important awards: the innovation award within the field of environmental education from the Portuguese Museology Association – APOM (1996) and the "Henry Ford Prize for the Preservation of the Environment” (1997).
The general philosophy underlying the Restoration Project for Serralves Park, whose studies were initiated in 2001, was Rehabilitation. This consisted in adaptation of the spaces and/or the structuring elements and composition via various interventions, which made it possible to resolve problems affecting current and future use, function and aptitude. Rehabilitation is an intervention process by means of which the integrity of the heritage in question is safeguarded.
One of the qualities of Serralves park is the diversity of its set of trees and shrubs, constituted by indigenous and exotic vegetation and including around 8,000 examples of ligneous plants, representing around 230 species and varieties.
The Park's programming is founded on a strategy based on the development of programming cycles intended to take place on an annual basis. Playful dimensions and learning processes underlie the main structural and complementary aspects of the programme of activities for the general public. A series of activities are thus developed within and outside Serralves, that encourage informed enjoyment of the Park and reflection, perception and understanding of the landscape as a cultural construction, that evolves over time and space. In parallel, various socio-pedagogical training initiatives are organised, for specific audiences, within the framework of the Serralves Foundation's activities.