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World Heritages

No Less than 5 of the 14 Portuguese World Hertitage sites are located here

  1. Monastry of Alcobaça
  2. Monastry of Batalha
  3. Cultural landscape of Sintra
  4. Convent of Christ in Tomar
  5. University of Coimbra


11 Portuguese sites are on the Tentative List. This means the country has nominated these sites to be added to the UNESCO World Heritage list. You can find 2 of these sites in the Costa de Prata.

Palace is baroque heart of Mafra

In Mafra you can visit the Palacio Nacional de Mafra, a beatiful palace and monastry. João V demanded the construction in the 18th century, the profits of gold- and diamond mines in Brazil financed the construction.

This vast complex is among the most sumptuous Baroque buildings in Portugal.

The palace is open to the public, although only by guided tours. The tour through the palace takes about one hour, and gives you a good impression of the palace, convent and basilica.

The highlight of the tour is the very impressive Rococo library: 88 m long, over 35,000 leather-bound volumes. Besides natural techniques of conservation for the books, such as the lack of space between the wall and the book (so it doesn't create humidity), there are also a few bats that inhabit this library eating any insect that could destroy this invaluable treasure!

Portuguese writer José Saramago wrote a novel about the construction of the monastry: Memorial do Convento (Memorial of a Convent).

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Outside you can walk around the Tapada Nacional de Mafra, the king’s former wildlife and game reserve. It is a unique nature reserve, over 800 hectares in size, completely enclosed by a wall.
The variety in flora and fauna is impressive.

www.tapadademafra.pt

Arise of the Castelo dos Templários and Convento de Cristo

After the conquest of the region from the Moors in the Portuguese Reconquista, the land was granted in 1159 as a fief to the Order of the Knights Templar. Its Grand Master in Portugal, and Tomar's somewhat mythical founder, Gualdim Pais, laid in 1160 the first stone of the Castle and Monastery that would become the headquarters of the Order in Portugal.

The feudal contract was granted in 1162 by the Grand Master to the people. The Templars ruled from Tomar a vast region of central Portugal which they pledged to defend from Moorish attacks and raids. Like many lords of the unpopulated former frontier region of central Portugal, the villagers were given relatively liberal conditions in comparison with those of the northern regions of Portugal, in order to attract new immigrants. They were not allowed the title of Knight which was reserved to the monks. Women were also admitted to the Order, although they didn't fight.

In 1190 a Moroccan caliph and his army attacked Tomar. However the crusader Knights and their leader kept them at bay. A plaque commemorates this bloody battle at the Porta do Sangue at the Castelo Templário (Castle of Tomar).

Castle and Convent of the Knights Templar of Tomar (transferred in 1344 to the Knights of the Order of Christ)

In 1314, under pressure from the Pope Clement V, who wanted the Templars banned throughout Europe, King Dinis negotiated instead to transfer the possessions and personnel of the Order in Portugal to a newly created Order of Christ. This Order in 1319 moved south to Castro Marim, but in 1356 it returned to Tomar. In the 15th century the position of (cleric) Grand Master of the Order was henceforth nominated by the Pope, and the (lay) Master or Governor by the King, instead of being elected by the monks.

Henry the Navigator was made the Governor of the Order. The cross of the Order of Christ that was painted in the sails of the caravels that crossed the seas, and the Catholic missions in the new lands were under the authority of the Tomar clerics until 1514. Henry, enriched by his overseas enterprises, was the first ruler to ameliorate the buildings of the Convento de Cristo since its construction. He also ordered dams to be built to control the river Nabão and swamps to be drained. This allowed the burgeoning town to attract more settlers. Henry ordered the new streets to be designed in a rational, geometrical fashion, as they can still be seen today.

(source: Wikipedia)

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The monastry Santa Maria de Vitória is Portuguese late gothic and manuelino masterpiece

On 15 August 1385 a battle started at Aljubarrota between the Castilian army and the Portuguese army lead by Nuno Álvares Pereira. On the square you see his statue. Mainly with help of English archers the Spanish army was defeated, and Portuguese independence could be maintained.

The first king, João, promised to build a monastryto thank the Virgin Mary for the Portuguese victory.

Many architects were involved in the construction, reason why the buildings have 3 different styles: late gothic, manuelino and renaissance. In the cloisters is the monument for unknown soldiers who died in the first world war. Every hour you can see the the change of the guards.

Together with Alcobaça and Tomar, Batalha forms the Golden Triangle of abbeys in the Costa de Prata (Silvercoast). These three monastries are on Unesco’s World Heritage list.

The municipal museum of Batalha was opened in 2011. It was founded to support the cultural heritage of the village. The museum has some interactive features, and takes you on a journey through the past to the present.
In the historical archives you can also see the excavations of the Roman city of Collipo, that once was built in the Batalha area.

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Monks founded monastry

The abbey dates back to 1153, the year in which King Afonso donated to Don Bernardo de Claraval large areas between Leiria and Óbidos. It was a wild and desolate area with plenty of water. It was located in a deep valley, 'where the sunrise was late and the sunset was early'.

Which made it an excellent place for monks, because this gave them plenty of time to pray and meditate. One of the 'rules' of the Order says that if there are (too) many monks in a monastry, 12 monks have to leave to found a new monastery elsewhere. So when monks from the monastery of Claraval (France) arrived in Alcobaça they found a deserted region, where only a few descendants of Portuguese Arabs lived.

The monks' work was not easy. They had to clear the land, fight the water, build dikes and divert rivers. The name Alcobaça is derived from the name of the 2 rivers that flow through the village: the Alcoa and the Baça.These rivers were very important to monastry life, and one of the rivers was diverted through the monastry so the monks had running water. On the side of the monastry you can still see the spot where the water was directed inwards.

Ingenious water system

The water system was, especially in that time, very ingenious. In the huge kitchen you can still see the huge basins where food was washed. By the way this is not the original kitchen: the kitchen, which is still there and is unique in its kind, was built later when many more monks joined the monastry. In the cloister you can see the door to the old kitchen. You can also see the old well in the center of the courtyard, and the fountain where the monks washed their hands before they had their meals.

A simple life

Deze vallei was des te meer een goede plek om een abdij te bouwen omdat het dichtbij de de Serra dos Candeeiros lag, waar goede steen voorhandig was. Maar eerst wachtte de monniken nog een zware taak. Om het klooster goede fundamenten te kunnen geven en te beschermen tegen overstromingen, moest de grond 12 meter verhoogd worden. Omdat de monniken gekozen hadden voor een leven van eenvoud, gebed en armoede werd de bouw van de abdij sober gehouden. Toch is de kerk nog gigantisch. De weinige versierselen die er zijn vonden hun oorsprong in de natuur. De pilaren zijn summier versierd met uit steen gehouwen afbeeldingen van o.a. palmbaderen, varens en manden, In de kerk zijn de beroemde graftombes van King Pedro en Inez de Castro. De hoofdrolspelers in het beroemde liefdesverhaal van Portugal. Dit verhaal is overal beschreven.

All the more this valley was a good place to build a monastery because it was close to the Serra dos Candeeiros, where good stone was available. But first the monks had to complete a daunting task. In order to give the monastery good fundaments and to protect it from floods, the ground level had to be raised by 12 meters. Because the monks had chosen a life of simplicity, poverty and prayer, the abbey was kept sober. Yet the church is still gigantic. The few decorations out there have their origin in nature. The pillars are meticulously decorated with carved stone palm leaves, ferns and baskets. In the church stand the famous tombs of King Pedro and Inez de Castro, main characters Portugal's most famous love story. You can read this story everywhere.

The monk and the egg

The monks were mainly involved in the exploitation of the land, and their spiritual development. They wrote and copied books and illustrated them. The room (The Scriptorium) where this took place is still visible. You can also visit the former dormitory (Dormitario). Hereyou can see very well the decoration of the pillars. They are all different.

Apart for the monks, there were also the so-called lay brothers. They worked on the land. And thanks to these people, the monasteries were so rich. They herded cattle, worked the land, sowed and reaped. In addition, the lands were leased to (poor) farmers. Often, the lease was paid with the harvest of the country and with eggs.

The story goes that in some monasteries there were so many eggs, the monks had to find a solution for the use of all the eggs. This was found in the making of pastries. Portugal is famous for its pastries. Every year in November a pastry festival is held at the monastry of Alcobaça. A better atmosphere and better cakes you can not imagine. But even if there is no festival, you can indulge yourself to pastries. Opposite the monastry you will find Pasteleria Alcoa, there you can taste all the cakes you want.