The best guide to Alcobaça and Central Portugal
The Mosteiro de Alcobaça is an imposing and grand monastery complex, and is one of the finest examples of early Gothic architecture in Portugal. The mighty church was commissioned by King Afonso Henriques in 1153 to demonstrate the power of the new ruling dynasty, after the Christian Crusades drove the Moors from central Portugal.
The monastery was constructed soon after the church, and date from an era when to be a monk was a harsh and difficult calling, and the monastery reflects this austere and severe life. The only true flashes of artistic beauty are the tombs of King Pedro and his wife Inês, and these (along with their fateful story) will be the highlight of any visit to the Mosteiro de Alcobaça..
This article will provide a tourist guide to the Mosteiro de Alcobaça and includes an image tour of the monastery.
The church (and nave) are free to visit, and this includes the tombs of King Pedro I and Inês de Castro. The €6 entrance fee provides access to one of the cloisters (the Claustro de Dom Dinis) and the adjoining rooms. The entrance fee includes an informative audio guide.
A visit to the church (the free section) takes around 20 minutes, while to explore the entire monastery requires 60 to 90 minutes. Organised tours routinely only provide enough time to see the church (about 30minutes), if you wish to explore more in-depth consider visiting Alcobaca independently.
The Monastery is positioned on the confluence of two rivers, the Rio Alcoa and the Rio Baça (hence the name of the town Alcobaça).
King Afonso Henriques commanded Saint Bernard to construct the church after the victory at Santarém in 1147, against the Moors. Saint Bernard was the founder of the Order of Cistercians, and the construction of the monastery for the Cistercians brought favour for the fledging Portuguese dynasty from the pope. Bernard was a French abbot (Bernard of Clairvaux), and the Mosteiro de Alcobaça has many similarities to other French Gothic monasteries.
When king Pedro was coronated (1357), he had his murdered wife (Inês) exhumed, placed on the queen's throne and forced all of his courtiers to kiss her hand. The tomb of Inês de Castro is supported by four gremlin statues, which represent her assassins. The tombs of King Pedro and Inês where badly damaged by French soldiers 1810, who were hoping find jewels and treasures within.
At its peak there were over 900 monks housed in the monastery and the fertile lands owned by the monastery ensured it prospered. The Mosteiro de Alcobaça was originally harsh and silent but by the 18th century had a reputation of overindulgences (especially with food). This is exemplified by the colossal chimney in the kitchen, which was designed to accommodate a whole ox over the fire pit.
The Mosteiro da Batalha is a 14th-century monastery complex, which was constructed in commemoration of the battle of Aljubarrota. Both Alcobaça or Batalha are often combined in the same day trip or organised tour as they are only 20km apart.
In a direct comparison, most visitors would recommend Mosteiro da Batalha over the Mosteiro de Alcobaça. The Mosteiro de Alcobaça has a much more austere appearance (Early-Gothic styling) than the decorative Mosteiro da Batalha (Late-Gothic and Manueline styles).
This section will provide an image tour of the Mosteiro de Alcobaça. This first section can be visited without an admission ticket.
The façade of the church was remodelled during the 18th century and is a combination of Gothic (rose window) and Baroque (the towers).
The interior is simple, sparse and follows a classic Latin cross layout.
On either side of the altar are the tombs of Pedro (right south side) and Inês de Castro (left northern side).
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Containing the tour....
The royal pantheon (Panteão Real) is on the south side on the main Nave and contains the tombs of many early kings and queens of Portugal. In the altar opposite the Panteão Real is a terracotta depiction of the death of Saint Bernard, but this has been unfortunately damaged by rainwater.
The sacristy was destroyed by the 1755 earthquake and was rebuilt in the Manueline style. This period is represented by elaborate stone carving, and the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (Lisbon) is the finest example.
The following sections can only be viewed after purchasing an entrance ticket €6.
The cloisters were constructed around 1280, under the rule of King Dinis, 130 years after King Afonso I commanded the construction of the church.
The first room entered after paying the entrance fee is the Kings Hall (Sala dos Reis). This room contains 19 statues of the Portuguese kings, while the painted tiles (azulejos) detail the history of the Mosteiro de Alcobaça. The most notable statue is the coronation of King Afonso I, by Saint Bernard and Pope Alexander III, and thus implying Portugal’s legitimate status as a country after crusades.
Have you considered a small group tour?
Organised tours in Portugal tend to be of a high standard, with knowledge guides and enthusiastic staff, and are a great way to meet fellow travellers. A selection of the best tours covering Alcobaça found by GetYourGuide.com include:
The king hall exits onto the Claustro de Dom Dinis (the Cloister of King Dinis), but it is often referred to as the cloister of silence, as the monks were forbidden from talking.
The chapter house is on the northern side of the King Dinis Cloister and was where the monks would hold religious meetings. Next to is the shop but this small room was the Parlour, the only room in the monastery where the monks were allowed to talk between themselves.
Upstairs is the vast dormitory, which was the communal sleeping area for the monks. The chamber extends for 67m and was devoid of and artistic detail, so as not to distract the monks from their work and study.
The dormitory was connected to the upper level of the Cloister of Silence and the Claustro do Cardeal (Cloister of the Cardinal). The Cardinal Cloister is not open to the public but can views from the balcony.
The third cloister (Claustro do Rachadoiro) once had an extensive library containing one of the largest collections of Portuguese mediaeval religious texts, but these were destroyed by Napoleon’s troops in 1810.
The upper level of the Cloister of Silence can be walked around.
While heading out to the cloister of Silence do not miss the view of the upper level of the kitchen and huge chimney which extends from the kitchen.
The next room to visit is the refectory and this is on the lower cloister level, so return via the dormitory.
The refectory is the iconic room of the monastery and has a high vaulted ceiling supported by gothic arches. On the southern side is the pulpit where the (abbot) would teach from.
Next to the refectory is the kitchen, and this is the room which is often the most interesting for visitors. The kitchen is lined with white tiles and is completely dominated by the huge oven and chimney in the centre of the room. This oven was designed so that a whole ox could be roasted over the fire pit.
The Rio Alcoa was diverted to provide a constant source of water to the kitchen.
This concludes the tour of the monastery and visitors return to the church via the Kings Hall
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