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Monastery of Batalha - Historical Building Batalha - Portugal

Commissioned in 1385 to celebrate the Portuguese victory over an overwhelming Castilian force at the battle of Aljubarrota, the impressive Monastery of Batalha is one of Portugal’s greatest Gothic masterpieces. The exterior is ornate, featuring many buttresses, balustrades and pinnacles (although parts of it are obviously unfinished: some of the pinnacles have a sort of sawed-off look to them). The magnificent front portal features statues of the apostles, Gothic-style.


The interior features high, vaulted ceilings and some magnificent stained glass windows which date from the 16th century. There is a small fee to enter the back part of the monastery. It is well worth it: it is where you’ll find the Royal Cloisters, which features stonework representing flora and fauna from the New World as well as ships and seas: all of which celebrate Portugal’s leading role in the glorious Age of Discovery.


Also in the restricted area is Portugal’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and a small military museum, most of which celebrates Portugal’s role in World War one. What’s that, you say? You didn’t know that Portugal fought in World War one? They did, entering the war in March 1916 on the side of the Allies, honoring a traditional alliance with England that dates back centuries.  They saw relatively little action other than being crushed by a massive German offensive at the Battle of the Lys in April 1918. The small museum in the old refectory will tell you all about it.


Be sure to check out the Capelas Imperfeitas (Unfinished Chapels), a mausoleum complex added in 1435 by a minor noble. The ambitious project was never finished: it is this part of the monastery that is responsible for the sort of sawed-off look that it has from certain angles.  The pillars were supposed to hold up a dome, which was never completed.


Like most important monasteries in Portugal, this one has several royal tombs: look in the Founder’s Chapel for the tombs of King João, his English wife Phillipa of Lancaster and their son Prince Henry the Navigator, among others. Look for the tomb of their son Fernando, who, after leading an ill-advised siege of Tangiers in 1437, was held as hostage by Moorish Emir Salà ben Salà for five years, toiling in the Emir’s stables and gardens and languishing in his dungeons before mercifully dying of dysentery. His body was eviscerated and hung upside down from the walls of Fez. Fernando’s friend and biographer João Alvarez managed to cut out his heart, preserve it somehow, and bring it back to Portugal in 1451. What was left of his body was brought back in 1473 and all of the bits and pieces were finally entombed in Batalha. He was beatified by Pope Paul II in 1470.


The full name of the Monastery is officially Santa Maria da VitĂłria na Batalha. In 1983, it was named a UNESCO World Heritage site. In July 2007, the Portuguese voted it one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal.

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