Love stories in the Portuguese monastery of Alcobaça
Alcobaça (Portugal) is a town in the province of Estremadura (according to the old administrative division), founded in 1210.
The name comes from the words “Alcoa” and “Basa”, which are the names of rivers. It became world famous thanks to the monastery located on its territory. A world-class historical site, the monastery of Alcobaça belonged to the Cistercian monastic order, a branch of the Benedictine order.
A must-see in the city
Among the sights the main one is the Abbey of Santa Maria de Alcobaça.
1153. Afonso Henriques, the first king of Portugal, ordered the Mosteiro Santa Maria de Alcobaca to perpetuate his victory over the Moors and served for two centuries as the tomb of the royal family.
In front of the church there is a triangular shaped town square. The main entrance is reached by a stone staircase with four-metre high Gothic obelisks. A preserved openwork rose adorns the front wall. The statue of Our Lady is in the center, with a sculpture of St. Benedict on the right and St. Bernard on the left.
The central aisle (nave) has no superfluous decorative elements, complex ornaments. It amazes with its 17-meter height and length of 106 meters. Walking through the nave, visitors see the tombs of King Pedro I and his lover Ines (Inish) de Castro. The romantic story of their love, which ended tragically, is reflected in the best sculptural examples of Portuguese Gothic art.
Pedro’s tomb is supported by six lions and adorned with bas-relief paintings depicting events from the life of Saint Bartholomew. Another part of the bas-reliefs is dedicated to the history of Inís and Pedro. At the king’s feet sits a dog, the personification of fidelity.
The tomb of the murdered woman shows images of episodes in the life of Jesus Christ, the Holy Crucifixion, and the Passion of Christ. The tomb is held by mystical beings – half lions, half monks. Both sarcophagi are crowned with the phrase: “Till the end of the world”.
An interesting fact. The royal son and the daughter of a Castilian nobleman entered into a secret marriage and had children against the will of his father Afonso IV. On Afonso’s tacit instructions, the beloved Inish was murdered. Pedro, becoming king after his father’s death, punished the murderers and ordered the body of his beloved to be removed from the tomb. He crowned her, forcing the court to swear an oath to the dead queen. It was his will that both tombs, his and Inish’s, should be set up so that when the terrible judgment came, they could look each other in the eye.
The Hall of the Royal Pantheon contains 13 royal tombs.
The entire abbey of Alcobas, built according to the principles of the Gothic style, covers an area of 40 thousand square meters and consists of five monasteries, bedrooms, a library, a huge kitchen, and the living room of the kings. The royal hall provides visitors with sculptures of all the monarchs of Portugal.
The kitchen is equipped with a water duct, the mechanism of which still circulates water. The chimney under which the fire was made and the stone table for cutting the food are preserved.
13th century. King Dinish the First commissioned the construction of the Cloisters of Silence. The Cloister of Silence was originally only a lower gallery tier. The upper gallery was built a few centuries later (early 16th century). This is when the fountain decorating the northern part of the courtyard was built.
The Alcobas Library is recognized as one of the largest library collections of medieval Portugal.
1810. The French invasion had negative consequences: plundering, theft, and the destruction of many book relics. Today the National Library of Lisbon keeps those copies of books that have been saved.
Alcobaça, a truly Portuguese town, has its own castelo (built probably in the 7th or 8th century). A small fortress on a mountain during Arab rule, the remains of which can be found by following the brown signs, is considered a local landmark. From the castelo there is a panoramic view of the monastery grounds.
An interesting fact. According to legend, the owner of Castelo de Alcobaca (8th century) was the rich and powerful Ben Al Mansour. He had a magical voice capable of mesmerizing people. One day, as he was singing, a beautiful woman passed by. Fascinated by his singing, she opened the doors of the palace and once inside, she stayed there forever.
The fortress was used in various ways in subsequent centuries. First monks lived there, then it served as a prison. The 19th century, when the last monk left the monastery, was the last for the fortress. Residents began to dismantle the castelo, using the stones to build houses.
After traveling 1.2 kilometers from the city, tourists find a structure that was formerly a wine factory. Here is located the Museum of Wine (late 20th century). About ten thousand varieties of collectible wines collected from all regions of Portugal. The collection has samples of wines aged 50 years.
The famous, big for that time producer, José Eduardo Raposo de Magalhaes, sought to develop the wine-making traditions of the region. To this end he built a winery (1875) to produce local products. Among the most famous brands are port and madera. Tourists can buy a bottle of genuine Portuguese table wine for the price of 2.50 – 3.50 EUR.
Attractions in Alcobas
Among the attractions of this Portuguese city, it is worth noting not only architectural monuments.
- Alcobas apples are the national product produced in the West Coast areas. The product is qualified by the European Union and the Ministry of Agriculture (1994, conformity with EEC Directive 2081/92). These organizations recognize that the apples grown by agricultural enterprises in this region have distinctive features that unite the unique conditions for the cultivation of high quality apples.
- The region is characterized by traditionally developed ceramic and porcelain production, due to large deposits of clay. Even the monks of the Cistercian order mastered the art of clay processing. Alcobas ware is easily identified by the shades of yellow, green, purple on the background of the predominant blue.
- The homeland of Ginja liqueur is the city of Alcobaça (20th century). It is known that Manuel de Souza Ribeiro (1894-1976) came here purposefully and for several years worked in the wine and spirits industry. Becoming a well-known highly skilled specialist, he developed the formula of cherry liqueur, which remains unchanged until today. This is how the famous Ginja M. S. R. (1930), a Portuguese cherry liqueur served in chocolate cups, was born.
- Monastic sweets, traditionally, were made with large quantities of eggs. In medieval times, white was used in the construction of buildings, using its bonding properties, so monks used yolk for baking. But the recipe changed. Pastry chefs today use a variety of ingredients: egg white, chocolate, nuts, fruit, honey, rice, Alfarroba, and carob. The monastery museum complex holds fairs where pastries from all over Portugal are displayed.
How to get to the city
Guided by a map of Portugal, tourists most often associate a visit to Alcobaça with the city of Batalha, which is 64, 6 kilometers away. On your own by car, drive 1 hour. It takes 5 liters of gasoline which costs 60 EUR – 75 EUR.
There is no railway station. There is a bus station.
- From Lisbon to Alcobas twice a week there is a bus from the station Oriente. The bus ride time is 1 hour and 20 minutes. The cost is 10 EUR.
- From Leiria the bus travels about 45 minutes. The fare is 8 EUR.
The cost of a tour to the monastery
- April – September, 09.00-18.30,
- October-March, 09.00-17.30.
To visit the monastery the ticket costs:
- adults 6 EUR,
- For students, seniors – 3 EUR,
- Children under 14 years old are free of charge.
There is a single ticket for visiting the monasteries of Alcobaça, Batalha and Tomar for 15 EUR.
Individual tour from Lisbon to Tomar, Batalha, Alcobaça, Obidos lasts 9,5 hours:
- for 1-3 people by car (accompanied by a guide) – 398 EUR;
- for 1-6 people by minivan (accompanied by a guide) – 439 EUR.
For accommodation you can choose an appropriate price hotel. Most hotels include breakfast in the daily rate.
|Hotel||Cost, per day|
|Solar de Cerca do Mosteiro||181,33 EUR|
|Vale d’Azenha Hotel Rural||118,90 EUR|
|Casa Da Padeira||74,30 EUR|
|Your Hotel Spa||66,90 EUR|
|Hotel Mare||65,90 EUR|
|Hotel D. Ines de Castro||40,10 EUR|
In the square in front of the monastery numerous cafes offer tourists to try the traditional Portuguese pastries “pasteis de nata” (pasteis de nata), “dosas de masapão” (marzipans), “queijadas” (cakes with cheese filling). The Alcoa pastry factory, located in Alcobas, has repeatedly won the annual competition to determine the “tastiest pastry”.
Seclusion, silence, white houses with red roofs, a majestic monastery – a landscape that attracts tourists.
The small town of Alcobaça in the central-western region of Portugal is washed by the Alcoa and Basa rivers, after which the place gets its name. The rich heritage that goes back to the origins of Portugal, the unique architecture of the monastery, the beautiful views, the amazing pastries and one of the most beautiful love stories in the world is what makes the town of Alcobaça such an attraction for tourists.
Through the pages of history
The history of the foundation of the city is inextricably linked to the legend, according to which King Afonso Henriques promised Saint Mary to erect a monastery in her honor if he succeeded in capturing an important strategic point, the Moorish castle of Santarén. The fortress was conquered and the king kept his promise.
In 1153, D. Afonso Henriques donated an area of 440 square kilometers to St. Bernardo, abbot of the cloister of Clairvaux in France. The purpose was to establish a Cistercian monastery in the area, which would contribute to the settlement and purification of the lands reclaimed from the Moors. In 1178, the monks began building the Abbey of Santa Maria de Alcobaça, which became one of the richest and most powerful Cistercian orders, directly affecting the cultural, social and economic development of this small Portuguese city.
The city’s geographical position
On the map of Portugal, Alcobaça is about 109 km from Lisbon. This municipality of 417.05 square kilometers, divided into 18 parishes, is home to 55,000 people.
The climate of Alcobas
Surrounded by lush green hills, the climate is Mediterranean, strongly influenced by Atlantic winds. Nights are very cold during the winter and days are warm. In the summer the climate is very mild, but the nights are cool because of the fogs to which the region is exposed.
Alcobaça attractions in Portugal
Many tourists come here to take pictures of its main attraction – the Alcobas Monastery, one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. However, the city can also offer its visitors many other interesting sights, among them:
- The Monastery of Santa Maria de Cos. The next stop after the Monastery of Alcobaça is the village of Cos. The monastery was founded in the 12th century for widows who wanted to lead a monastic life. The impressive external simplicity of the building contrasts sharply with the interior, which belongs to the first Portuguese Baroque.
- The Castle of Alcobaça. On the crest of a high hill on the edge of town are the ruins of a castle. In the 12th century it was donated to the Cistercian order, whose monks planted vines on the slope, thus starting the local wine industry. From here you have the best panorama of the city: the monastery at the foot of the hill and the Serra dos Candeiriros on the horizon when looking to the east.
- The Monastery of Batalha. This is another UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is located 15 minutes from the city of Alcobas and is considered one of the best Gothic monuments in Europe. The construction of the Monastery of Batalha (which translates as “battle”), was begun in 1386 to commemorate Portugal’s victory over Spain at the Battle of Aljubarrot.
- Salgados Beach. The spectacular Atlantic coast is only 15 minutes away by car. Travelers to Alcobaça in the summer can relax on the white sand and admire the giant waves, but these waters are not safe for swimming.
- São Martinho do Porto Beach. Not far from Salgado Beach are the remains of a huge coastal lagoon that once stretched for many kilometers. It is now a large shell-shaped bay surrounded by cliffs. Unlike most beaches nearby, children can swim here.
- Sierra de Air Candeiros Nature Park. The picturesque round, shallow peaks of these mountain ranges can be appreciated by hikers, bikers, and horseback riders. However, the main beauty of these places is underground, where rivers have created deep cave systems.
If travelers want to stay overnight, Alcobaça will offer them several accommodation options:
Alcobaça’s Portuguese cuisine and pastries have been strongly influenced by the local Cistercian monasteries. Tourists coming to the city of Alcobaça can taste traditional dishes in the restaurants:
Souvenirs from the city of Alcobas
Tourists will find colorful pottery, patterned shawls, cork handbags and other typical souvenirs in every other store in the main square and the streets leading to it. An obligatory souvenir of Alcobas is a bottle of ginja. It is a cherry liqueur with an intense ruby color, made from the local variety of cherries according to the recipe of the Cistercian monks.
Events in the city
Alcobassa delights its guests and residents with festivals, exhibitions and fairs, among them:
- Medieval Aljubarrot. The historical date of August 14, marking the victory of the Portuguese troops in the battle with the Spaniards, is celebrated in the village of Aljubarrota with a medieval fair with costume shows, music and reenactments of the battle.
- A nineteenth-century market. In May, a colorful fair with dances, songs and traditional games of the XIX century is organized in the vicinity of the monastery of Alcobas.
- Cistermúsica music festival. This Alcobas music festival is one of the important cultural events in Portugal.
- International exhibition of sweets and sweets. During the month of November, the Monastery of Alcobaça welcomes an exhibition of desserts and liqueurs, with participants from Spain, France, Belgium, Poland and Brazil, as well as many Portuguese monasteries, such as Singverga, Lawrical, Montalvo and Rio Caldo.
How to get to the city?
You can get here by car from Lisbon along the A8 in the direction of Leiria. The journey takes about 2 hours. The national bus network Express has lines to Alcobaça from Lisbon, Coimbra and Porto, as well as other Portuguese cities.