Monasteries of Alcobaca

Monasteries of Portugal: Alcobaca, Batalha and Tomar

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The Great Monasteries of Portugal’s Heartland

In the heart of Portugal, north of Lisbon lies the Estremadura and Ribatejo regions. The area is known for having historical villages, fertile farmland and of course, castles! We had so much to see in the region, including the city of Evora, Portugal.

But, with such a limited time in the country, we decided to head to the region to visit 3 highly accessible UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the monasteries of Alcobaca, Batalha and Tomar.

Alcobaca Monastery

At only 100 km north of Lisbon, the town of Alcobaca is an excellent choice for a day trip from Lisbon. The prime reason for our visit was to ooh and ahh at the town’s magnificent gothic monastery, the aptly named Alcobaca Monastery or Mosteiro de Santa Maria de Alcobaca.

The monastery was commissioned by King Afonso, the first king of Portugal, in 1138AD to commemorate his victory of Santarem from Moorish control. It was completed in 1223AD.

Front entrance of the Monastery of Alcobaca in Alcobaca, Portugal.

Pro-Tip: For those that do not want to drive or rent a car, it is possible to get to Alcobaca from Lisbon bus.

During 17th and 18th centuries, the original Gothic facade was altered such that only the doorway and rose window were part of the original concept. A

dditionally, at this time, wings were added. Today it holds a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation and is Portugal’s largest gothic church.

Interior of Alcobaca Monastery

Upon entering the church the first thing I noticed were the very large pillars that lined the nave. At 106 m in length and 23 m in width, it is very long.

Long and narrow vaulted nave of Alcobaca Monastery in Portugal.
The detailed sacristy entrance at the Monastery of Alcobaca.

Tombs of Dom Pedro and Dona Ines

We headed further into the church and then I saw it. The Tombs of Dom Pedro and Dona Ines laying foot to foot. The love story of Dom Pedro and Dona Ines is a tragic one. They were lovers who married in secret as Dom Pedro’s father, who was the ruling king at the time, thought that Ines would not be a good choice politically.

Tomb of Dom Pedro in Alcobaca Monastery in Portugal.

Tomb of Dom Pedro.

In fact, he was so worried about their potential union and it affects on the crown, that he had her assassinated. According to legend, Dom Pedro chose at his time of death for them to be laid in such way so that when they arose in the afterlife they would see each other.

Tomb of Dom Pedro in Alcobaca Monastery in Portugal.

The tombs were every bit as intricately carved as I had read. I could clearly discern the Last Judgement scene at the foot of Ines’ tomb and the Wheel of Fortune at the head of Dom Pedro’s tomb.

Kitchen and Refectory

We finally bid adieu to Dom Pedro and Ines and wandered to the massive kitchen in the Monastery. It’s hard to imagine the need for such a large kitchen. But at its peak, there were almost 1000 monks in the Monastery.

No wonder there were seven dormitories and a library on site. Adjacent to the kitchen is the refectory where the monks enjoyed their meals in silence.

A large kitchen in the Monastery of Alcobaca in Alcobaca, Portugal.
The refectory or dining room of the monks in Alcobaca Monastery, Portugal.

Cloister of Silence (Claustro do Silencio)

Next, we headed to the Cloister of Silence. The two-story cloister was every bit as beautiful in person as I had previously seen in pictures. We walked among the orange trees in the lower level to get a 360° view of the intricate design.

Also, we wandered around the upper level. The Manueline style really stood out as it is quite different from the rest of the Monastery.

Water basin in the Monastery of Alcobaca, Portugal.
Woman on upper level of The cloister in the Monastery of Alcobaca, Portugal.

Batalha Monastery

The second monastery to visit on our list was in the town Batalha, which is only 3o mins from Alcobaca by car. The Batalha Monastery (Mosterio de Santa Maria da Vitoria) really stands out amongst the modern town of Batalha.

It is a Dominican Abbey built over several years in the 1430s in gothic style with strong Manueline accents. Its great architectural value and historical significance led to the building being classified as World Heritage in 1983.

Monastery of Batalha from the front.

The exterior of Batalha Monastery illustrates why the church took two centuries to be completed. The limestone building, now in an ochre hue due to time, has pinnacles, parapets, and flying buttresses. I could have stared at the intricately carved windows and doorway for hours.

Interior of Batalha Monastery

Surprisingly at first glance, the Monastery of Batalha looked very similar to the Monastery of Alcobaca. Both have vast but narrow naves and rather plain interiors dominated by several large columns.

We did arrive in the afternoon though just as the sun was shining through the beautiful stained glass windows. It gave the church a very warm glow we did not see in Alcobaca.

Mother and son pose in the colorful reflection of the stained glass windows inside the Batalha Monastery.
Tomb inside the Founder's Chapel of the Monastery of Batalha, Portugal.

Claustro Real (Royal Cloisters)

The Royal Cloisters were originally gothic designed in Gothic style by Afonso Domingues in the late 1380s. But the Manueline additions by Diogo de Boitac really make the area. And boy, did it ever take our breath away.

The impeccably manicured gardens. of Batalha Monastery in Portugal.

Impeccably manicured gardens.

It was made even more striking when compared to the very plain Claustro de Dom Afonso V which is also on site.

Capelas Imperfeitas (Unfinished Chapels)

The open-air unfinished Chapels in the eastern end of the Abbey was the last spot we visited in the Monastery of Batalha. To reach the octagonal mausoleum, you must actually exit the Abbey. As with other aspects of this site, it is the Manueline additions, this time by Mateus Fernandes, that truly makes the site extravagant.

The Unfinished Chapels of Batalha Monastery are in the shape of an octagon.

The Convent of Christ  (Convento do Cristo)

The third and final monastery on our list was in the town of Tomar, which is roughly 40 minutes east of Batalha on highway IC9. Placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1983, the Convento do Cristo is impossible to miss when driving into the small city of Tomar. This Knights Templar headquarters is on a hill and rises above its wooded surroundings.

View of Convento do Cristo once you enter Tomar, Portugal.

Charola

We started our tour at the Charola. The 16-sided Templar church is sometimes called the Rotunda. Inside was an octagonal altar similar in design to the Holy Sepulchre altar in Jerusalem.

Legend has it that the church was circular in design to enable the Knights to attend church while still on horseback. Whatever the reason, it remains one of the most striking altars I have ever seen. It was very ornate with paintings, frescoes, and gilded accents.

Exterior of the Templar Church in the Convent of Christ, in Tomar, Portugal.

Manueline Church

Connected to the Charola by an archway is the Manueline Church. The church has two levels. A striking feature is the ornate ribbed vaulting on the ceiling in the upper choir. However, the most popular feature of the church is an ornate window found on the exterior better known as The Manueline window.

The Manueline church as viewed from the Great Cloister of the Convent of Christ in Tomar, Portugal.

The Great Cloister

From the church, we explored the many cloisters within the monastery. The Convento do Cristo had no less than 5 cloisters. The most picturesque was the Great Cloister. Concealed spiral staircases could be found in the corners of the Great Cloister leading to the Terrace of Wax. The terrace was so named as it is where honeycombs were left to dry.

Cemetery Cloister in Convento do Cristo, Tomar, Portugal.

The other 4 cloisters were: 1) Cloister of the Crows; 2) Bread Cloister; 3) Cemetery Cloister; and 4) The Washing Cloister.

Templar Castle

At the end of our self-guided tour, we visited the Templar Castle. Built in 1160, the former royal quarters now lay in ruins. But, the castle Keep is still very much intact.

The Keep and castle walls of the Templar Castle in Convento do Cristo in Tomar, Portugal.

Tips for Visiting the Monasteries of Alcobaca, Batalha and Tomar

For interesting day tour options from Lisbon definitely consider visiting the towns of Alcobaca, Batalha and Tomar to experience 3 architecturally inspiring sites. Although it is possible to visit all three sites in one day, we do not suggest it.

Instead, pick two sites and leave the third site for the next day. You can also expand your tour of Portugal’s heartland by also visiting the miraculous area around Fatima and/or the prehistoric fields of dinosaur footprints in Ourem.

View of Castelo de Almoural in Portugal at sunset.

After visiting Tomar, on the drive back towards Lisbon, the GPS prompted us to a castle that was nearby. After visiting the castles in Sintra, we definitely wanted to see more of Portugal’s castles. So, we stopped to visit the Castelo de Almourol.

The castle is on an island and unfortunately, the last boat to the castle had just made its last run for the day. We later found out that the castle was originally built in the 1st century BC. While the exact origin is uncertain, it has evidence of Romans, Knights Templar, and medieval influences. We were so glad to have stopped by. What a great way to end our day. What are your favorite sites in Portugal?

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Christina Wagar
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Christina Wagar

Christina Wagar grew up in a travel loving family. She strives to instil her love of learning about different cultures and seeing new and old places to her husband Kevin and their two young boys.
Having experienced over 20 countries across 4 continents Christina is well versed at travel planning and thrives on sharing that information with others with the hopes of encouraging more families to experience this incredible world that we live in.
Christina Wagar
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27 Comments

  1. Wow, such a smart decision to narrow your visit to UNESCO World Heritage sites. These were three great picks. I particularly love the intricately carved tombs. My gosh, those are beautiful but I’ll bet even more so in person. Enjoyed reading the post and seeing the great photos.

  2. My favorite from this article is the Batalha Monastery! It has some magical vibes, I feel attracted to it!
    Thank you for sharing all those amazing UNESCO-protected places in Portugal!

  3. What a beautiful selection of sites. The sheer wonder of the architecture and the immense detail worked on within each building is just stunning. I would really love to visit these to see all of this first hand. Certainly a compelling case to get over to Portugal! I also agree that you definitely wouldn’t want to rush trying to see all of this in a single day. Far better to take your time and truly enjoy it.

  4. Omg I am in awe right now. There were SO many beautiful monasteries. Portugal has already been on my list, but now I want to go there even more! It looks absolutely incredible!

  5. These monasteries are unreal and your photos are gorgeous. Very interesting read, as well. I hadn’t heard the story of Dom Pedro and Dona Ines before. Tragic, indeed.

  6. These are all so spectacular and each very different. I love the intricately carved tombs and the Romeo and Juliet-esque story of Alcobaca, the stained glass windows of Batalha and the altar of Charola. This is not a part of the world I know at all but I look forward to visiting all of these!

  7. The nave looks so impressive. I saw something like this in the grand temples of South India. The façade of Monastery of Alcobaca is so interesting. It exudes an antique quality. However, my favourite from this blog is Batalha Monastery. I find its architectural style unique.

  8. These are all so stunning. We were just in Lisbon and saw some great architecture there and in Sintra, but these definitely look like they are worth the day trip. Great tip about going over two days. My husband has recently informed me that we try to do too much as a time 😛 I just want to see it all! But he would adore these sites! Just another reason to go back to Portugal 🙂

  9. The Royal Cloister reminds me of the San Jeronimos Monastery in Lisbon. Very similar architecture. I love that the Portuguese have been able to preserve these buildings and we are able to enjoy and learn about them today. Our kids thought the architecture in Lisbon was fascinating.

  10. Portugal has been on my radar for quite some time. These UNESCO sites just add to the many reasons why we should visit this country! Unfinished Chapels inside Batalha Monastery is phenomenal! I would love to stop by and see that in person!

  11. The photos are gorgeous. I thought monasteries and churches are separate entities. I used to think Monasteries are related to Buddhism only and hence they are found in no European countries!! Here you taught me something new today!

  12. I love this article. I had no idea about the Alcobaca Monastery and the tragic love story of Dom Pedro and Ines. So very Romeo and Juliet. Their tombs are so beautifully intricate. All of the UNESCO sites sound fabulous – I love the history behind them.

  13. I wish I had read this before we visited Portugal last year! I would definitely have made a point to visit some of these. The history is fascinating and I love learning stories like the Romeo and Juliet-ish one. What beautiful places.

  14. Never read about these places. I love those white delicate tombs. And to think Fatima is also near. Should really make the pilgrimage.

  15. These are truly beautiful and it would be very hard to pick a favourite or to tell you which one I would like to visit first. The architecture in Europe is something special, Porto included

  16. Lovely – thanks for sharing the details on these three places. Fascinating about the tragic story about Dom Pedro and Dona Ines and the beautiful details of their tombs. Travel safe!

  17. These monasteries look intriguing with their magnificence. It seems as if they have an aura of mysticism and serene calm which one associates with structure. The architectural styles of these structures speak volumes of the sheer artistry and ingenuity of the builders. This is definitely a fresh perspective of Portugal.

  18. Wow, all the three monuments look so stunning. I was saddened by the tragedy of Dom Pedro and Ines – their domes look so magnificent. Had never such intricately carved domes before, even in pictures! Thanks for sharing these brilliant architectural sites of Portugal.

  19. We had absolutely no idea that Portugal had those kind of churches and buildings. I can see how people would spend hours and travel all over the land visiting them! To see castles where the Knights Templar were known to be must have been such a cool experience.

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