25 de Abril Bridge, LISBON

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What to See

As one can surmise from the name, the monastery was built in relation to a battle (batalha means “battle” in Portuguese). Which battle was this? It was probably the most important of all throughout the history of the Portuguese kingdom, the one which confirmed it as an independent nation. By the year of 1385 the first dynasty had dwindled and by rightful dynastic law the kingdom should have been inherited by Spain. John, Grand Master of the Order of Aviz, led the Portuguese into battle, which assured Portugal’s independence from Castile. Actually, the monastery’s name is Santa Maria da Vitória, which roughly translates to “won battle”, or “victory”. It is an outstanding example of Late Middle Ages architecture in Europe. The foundations started to take place soon after the battle itself, in 1387. Further buildings were added up until the mid-16th century, although some of them have since disappeared. It became a role model for many other constructions in the country.

The monastery includes a cloister, called “Real” (royal), at its centre, around which several examples of such architecture, such as the church, the houses, the chapels and an additional cloister are found. The outstanding feature of the church is its façade, not only for its unique proportions but also for its flamboyant embellishments and lacework. Its dimensions are magnificent (80m high, 22m wide, and an arch rise of 32.5 m). The main entrance is filled with a large number of sculpted figures that are placed across its lancet arch. The nave interior is quite solemn, and its solid columns are the most impressive feature.

Adjacent to the church the Founder’s Chapel can be found, in which the tombs of King John I and his queen were built. Their statues can be found on top of the tombs, in full regalia and with clasped hands, united for all eternity. The chapel’s vault resembles a giant, geometric flower, bathed in the light that pours in through the openings. The “Capelas Imperfeitas” (Unfinished Chapels) are impressive for their ornamental motifs. They sit behind the church.

The “Sala do Capítulo” (Chapter House) is unique in Portugal: it has a square floor plan and it has an ingenious vault. The tomb of the Unknown Soldier is guarded there. The “Claustro Real” (Royal Cloister) is astonishing. The bones of the building materialize and then merge into the vault and then back into the columns. The arch spans were built at a later date, in Manueline style, and consist of an intricate lacework on stone. The Cloister of King Afonso V is of a more ancient tone, but it is its simplicity that gives it its noble and poetic nature.

It is inscribed on the Unesco World Heritage List. ( Winter: 9 am - 5 pm; Summer: 9 am - 6 pm).