Listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage site, in 1989, this magnificent monastery is one of the finest and most impressive examples of Cistercian architecture in Europe. Although it was built almost 900 years ago, the monastery still preserves the set of its mediaeval buildings. The church is the largest primitive Gothic church built in Portugal in the Middle Ages.
The monastery was built at the same time as the foundation of Portugal as a nation, and also shares some of its history. The Cistercian Order was founded by the Portugal’s first king, D. Afonso Henriques, following the donation of lands in Alcobaça in return for victory over the Moors during the conquest of Santarém.
Building on the monastery began in 1178, following the model of the abbey of Claraval, the Order’s mother church in France. The monks, who traditionally wore white habits, created a unique work of civilisation in the region, reflected in the public school that was founded in 1269. The regal donations received over the course of various reigns, led to the creation of the estates of Alcobaça – vast territorial domains that were populated and cultivated by the monks, and where they founded an agricultural school.
In the façade of the monastery, only the Gothic portico dates back to the original design. The graceful statues of São Bento and São Bernardo, located either side of the portico, contrast with the Baroque frontispiece and the bell towers that were added in the 18th-century.
Upon entering the monastery, the grandiose central nave, stripped of any adornments, produces a sensation of elevation and spirituality. In the centre of each transept, we can see two masterpieces of mediaeval statue work – the tombs of D. Pedro I (1357-67) and D. Inês, placed in front of one another in order to enable them to meet again on the day of Resurrection.
Make sure to visit the impressive set of mediaeval buildings, including the refectory, dormitory and chapter room, together with the cloister of D. Dinis, the surprising kitchen and the King’s room.