Reaching up towards the heavens, the architecture and gardens of the monastery of Alcobaca Portugal far exceeded our already high expectations.
This medieval Cistercian monastery and church are the first completely Gothic building in Portugal.
The fascinating history of the monastery began during a battle against the Moors in 1147. Portugal’s first king (Afonso I) kept his promise to build a great abbey / monastery if God had granted him a victory. The first stones were laid in 1153, and the monks began living here in 1223.
The church and monastery have had close ties to all Portuguese kings and many royal tombs are located here.
It’s no surprise that the Alcobaca Monastery is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has been since 1989
Let’s explore the Alcobaca Monastery
Our first view of the Monastery of Alcobaca highlights its baroque facade and its multi-arched doorway. The statues on the front are St. Bernard and St. Benedict. Above them are the statues representing the four Catholic virtues: prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance, reminding us of the Iglesia Capuchinos in Cordoba Argentina.
Once inside, we found a blend of simplicity and regalness. While the narrow passages created a closeness, the tall, dramatic ceilings counteracted the tightness, creating a surreal effect. Similar in structure, the monastery’s church was completed in 1269.
A concert in the King’s Hall
Based on the small crowd, we know that many people came to the monastery on this specific day to hear this woman play the piano in the acoustically impressive chamber. We, however, just got lucky and were here at both the right day and time.
Unfortunately, we never found out who she is.
The room itself is the King’s hall, and up high along the walls are terracotta statues of the kings of Portugal from King Afonso I (ruled from 1139 to 1185) to King Joseph I (ruled 1750-1777). Standing in the corner of the room, several of these kings seemed to almost perk up when the music started.
Some of the stories from the Monastery of Alcobaca
- The gluttony door
We somehow missed the gluttony door, a tall narrow doorway used to shame overweight monks into fasting and losing weight. Open Culture tells the story well.
- The tragedy of King Pedro
The intricately carved tombs of both Pedro I and his one true love Inês de Castro face each other in the monastery. As crown prince, Pedro’s marriage was arranged, but not to his love. As the story weaves on, Inês is murdered by Pedro’s father Afonso IV. In the end, Pedro commissioned the tombs himself, one for her at the time, the other to wait for him.
Cloisters and gardens at Alcobaca Monastery
More on the Monastery of Alcobaca
Alcobaca is situated along the western coast of Portugal about halfway up the country in an area most commonly called the Silver Coast.
The monastery is a must-see stop for visitors driving along the coast, or a fabulous day trip from Lisbon for those centring themselves in the capital, often combined with stops in Obidos, Fatima, and Nazaré.
It opens to the public daily at 9 am, closing at 6 pm in the winter and 7 pm in the summer. More details are on the official website.
Other things to do in Alcobaca Portugal
There is no question that visiting the Alcobaca Monastery is the top thing to do in Alcobaca, but it’s not the only thing. If you have allocated additional time, here are a few more ideas:
- National Wine Museum (Museu Nacional Do Vinho)
The former winery of a progressive vigneron of the late 19th Century, highlighting his achievements and advancements in wine production.
- Ruins of Alcobaca Castle (Castelo De Alcobaça)
Overlooking the city stands the long ago abandoned and now ruins of the Alcobaca Castle. While we enjoy exploring the ruins, we also enjoyed the fabulous views from up on the hill.
- Shop at the Market
Some say Alcobaca is home to Portugal’s best fruit, so if you get to the market, pick up a healthy snack.
- One of several beaches
Along the coast, a short distance from town, there are several beaches to choose from. The most popular include the huge lagoon at Baia de São Martinho do Porto and the white sand and deep blue sea at Praia do Salgado.
- Head to nearby Nazaré
Another fabulous stop, and you’ll want to split your time between the two towns. A small fishing village, Nazaré is also well known amongst surfers for its huge and impressive waves (October to March is best). From the area near the lighthouse, ride the funicular, visit the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Nazaré, or hang out at Norpark, a water play park for the days the waves are too big to swim in the sea.
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