Home to the white monks


A little more than an hour to the North of Lisbon you can find the charming town of Alcobaça. Known particularly for its monastery (shown above) the region around it is fertile in history and myth.

It may look like it was built in the 18th century (because of the architecture) but it was actually founded in 1153 by none other than Portugal’s first king, Afonso Henriques, as a gift to Bernard of Clairvaux to celebrate the king’s victory over the Moors at Santarém in 1147. This  monastery and its church were the first Gothic buildings to exist in Portugal and, fast forward eight centuries, in 1989 UNESCO listed it as a World Heritage Site.

The Alcobaça Monastery was among the first locations for the Cistercian Order (aka, the white monks) in Portugal. The Cistercian monks would play a major role in developing the region’s agriculture – apples from Alcobaça are still praised today for their quality and taste and the region is, generally speaking, known for its great fruit and vegetables. The monks, like so many other religious orders, made a living of producing and selling not only fruit and veg, but also jams, fruit preserves, liquers and conventual sweets (prepared in copperware).

This monastery is also famous for two tombs in particular: those of king Pedro and of Inês, a lady-in-waiting who was crowned queen after her death – yes, everyone had to kiss the new queen’s hand, even though she was already dead. Fascinating? Creepy? Their story and their beautifully decorated tombs deserve a post of its own, so stay tuned!

The 1755 earthquake (which I’ve mentioned several times) caused some damage to the monastery, but the worse was yet to come. In the 1800’s the invading French troops looted the library, the tombs and some of the inner decorations of the church, burning part of it on the process.

Despite all this the Alcobaça monastery is still one of the most majestic and beautiful buildings in Portugal.


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