The foundation of the abbey is cloaked in legend. Some say that it was set up by the very first Portuguese king after Santarém was taken from the Moors. King Afonso Henriques, it is said, offered the Cistercian monks the surrounding lands. The abbey itself was founded in 1152 but it took six whole centuries to complete. It is a vast monastic building, with a cloister at its heart, from which the other areas spread out (church, workshop, chapterhouse, kitchen and refectory).
The church’s nave is immense, 19.20m wide and 17.22m high. The largest in Portugal, actually. As well as the largest ever built by the Order of Cistercians. Being a Gothic church, its height is naturally emphasized by the verticality that comes together in the lancet arch vault. This Gothic church is a spiritual place which creates a peaceful environment. The floor plan is shaped like a cross. The façade, including the steeples, were completely remodelled in the 18th century, and a couple of two storey wings were built on each side, each measuring 100m wide. This creates a Baroque piece of architecture from the outside and a Middle Ages one from the inside.
Work began on the cloister in 1308, during King Dinis’ rule. With a square floor plan and its huge proportions, it is an original example of Portuguese Gothic style. It has two floors, which open to the terrace. The second floor was built later on, (in the 16th century), and despite its different arches, it is perfectly inkeeping with the rest of the building.
Apart from the central cloister, two additional ones were built, called “ Cardeal” and “Rachadouro”. Apart from these, there are many other convent buildings and chapels. All in all, it is a cluster of buildings that stands out for its statuary heritage and king’s tombs. An example of this is the tomb of King Pedro I and Inês de Castro, which, apart from being splendid examples of sculpture, they are also fascinating insights into Portuguese mythical heritage.
It is inscribed on the Unesco World Heritage List. (Alcobaça Monastery; winter schedule: 9 am – 5 pm; summer: 9 am – 7 pm. Free entrance for the church, €5 for the whole monastery compound. Not all of the premises can be visited)