The best guide to Batalha and Central Portugal
The Batalha Monastery is one of the most impressive religious buildings of Portugal. This Gothic monastery was commission by King João in gratitude for the decisive victory in the battle of Aljubarrota (1385), and the grand designs took over a hundred years to construct.
The Mosteiro da Batalha is a beautiful representation of the transition from the Gothic style of architecture through to the decorative Manueline style, and a visit to this iconic monument should be included in your tour of central Portugal. This article will provide a tourist guide and image tour of the Mosteiro da Batalha.
The magnificent Mosteiro da Batalha
It is free to visit the main church, with its high vaulted ceilings and original stain glass windows, but to experience the true magic of the monastery, the paid sections must be visited. The €6 entrance fee provides access to the Founders Chapel, the two cloisters and the unfinished chapel. There is a free audio guide with the entrance fee.
At least two hours are needed to fully explore the monastery (this includes the exterior, church, cloisters and chapels). Organised coach tours often only provide enough time to view the exterior of the monastery and the church nave. If you wish to see the entire complex consider making a day trip to Batalha, also a day trip should also include the informative Fundacao Batalha de Aljubarrota museum. Batalha is a peaceful Portuguese town, and is a pleasant location for a night’s stay.
Most visitors arrive by coach and their first view of the monastery is across the Largo Do Mosteiro. At the centre of this plaza is a statue of Nuno Álvares Pereira (Estátua D. Nuno Alvares Pereira). He was the brilliant military commander who was credited for winning the battle of Aljubarrota and keeping Portugal as an independent country.
Before heading into the church via the main portal (on the western side) walk to the eastern side and view the Transept Portal and the exterior of the Capelas Imperfeitas (Unfinished Chapel). The stain glass windows above the Transept Portal are some earliest examples in Portugal and add a flash of colour to the sombre interior.
At the eastern end of the monastery the seven pillars of the Capelas Imperfeitas can be seen raising from the midst of the chapel. The Unfinished Chapel has elaborate Manueline stone carving and is the burial location for King Duarte I, but there is no roof!
An admission ticket is needed to enter the chapel, and the normal flow of the tour means it is the last section of the monastery to be visited.
On the walk to the main entrance on the western side of the monastery, observe the numerous pinnacles and flying buttresses. The flying buttresses are not just decorative and were designed to support the high vaulted walls of the Nave and the Founders Chapel.
The main portal is myriad of carved arches and wonderful stone statues, which covers most of the western wall. The lower statues represent the Apostles, above them are angels and at the pinnacle is a statue of Christ.
The interior of the church follows classic Gothic designs, with a Latin cross layout and minimal ornamental features. The two real features are the early examples of stain glass windows and the incredible height (32m), which is remarkable considering the church was constructed in the 14th century.
The following areas of the monastery can only be visited with the admission ticket.
The Capela do Fundador (Founders Chapel) was the first royal pantheon of Portugal, and is one of the most stunning sections of the monastery. The unique octagon chamber contains the combined tomb of King John and his wife, Queen Philippa, with the tombs of their children lining the side walls.
The tour now visits the two cloisters, which were later additions to the church.
The first cloister is the Claustro Real (Royal Cloister) and often referred to as the Claustro de Dom João I (King John Cloister), and is the beautiful combination of Gothic arches with Manueline lattice stonework.
The second cloister, the Claustro Dom Afonso V (Cloister of King Afonso V) follows the conventional designs of medieval cloisters, and is much more austere.
On the eastern side of the Claustro Real, is the Sala do Capitulo (the Charter House), and was where monks would hold meetings and religious discussions. This chamber is impressive for medieval architecture, as it spans 19m and is unsupported. During its construction, the architects were so concerned about the roof collapsing that they only employed convicted criminals.
Today the Sala do Capitulo is the location for a memorial to the Unknown Soldier and has a permanent guard of honour. The single window in the chamber is a beautiful example of Renaissance stain glass and depicts the passion of Christ.
Before leaving the chamber, have a look at the (presumed) stone carving of Master Huguet, the architect responsible for the Charter House.
The refectory is vast but sparse, and was where the monks ate their meals in silence. Before entering for meals, the monks would symbolically wash their hands, and there is a beautiful fountain outside of the refectory.
Between the two cloisters is a long room, which was initially designed as a communal dormitory, but the Dominical monks believed in solitude, so the area was little used. This is the medieval example of a designer not listening to what user wants……
The Claustro Dom Afonso V is typical of other Portuguese Gothic monasteries, and could be considered rather plain in comparison to the extravagant Claustro Real. At it’s constructed the King Afonso V cloister was of a novel design, and was the first example of a double layer cloister in Portugal.
The final stage of the Batalha Monastery is to visit the unfinished chapel (Capelas Imperfeitas), which is to the rear of the main church. This section is possible to miss, as you must exit the monastery and cross the Largo Infante Dom Henrique to the small side entrance to the chapel.
The Capelas Imperfeitas was commissioned by Duarte I (King Edward) to be a royal pantheon for him and his family (the second of the church), but it was never completed due to the premature death of the king (in 1438) and then the death of the main architect, Mateus Fernandes. The chapel is one of the earliest examples of Manueline architecture, characterised by its elaborate stone carving, as seen on the stone pillars. Though the chapel was never completed, King Duarte’s tomb was placed in the Capelas Imperfeitas.
The best of central Portugal