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ALCOBACA TOURISM GUIDE

Europe's greatest Cistercian temple


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Alcobaca Abbey Alcobaça is known for its principal attraction, the Abbey of Santa Maria. Founded in 1153 to commemorate a victory against the Moors, it was finally completed in 1223. It is now Portugal's largest church, and one of its outstanding architectural monuments.

Alcobaca Abbey It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and its excellent state of preservation makes it the finest example of Cistercian architecture in Europe (it is also the continent's largest building of the Cistercian order).

Basically Gothic in structure, it contains five cloisters, seven dormitories, a library, and a huge kitchen.

Tomb inside Alcobaca Abbey's church The abbey church is far more impressive inside than out. Much of its original Gothic façade was altered in the 17th and 18th centuries, leaving only the main doorway and rose window unchanged. The Baroque façade was built in 1725 with two low towers and numerous statues. Inside, the nave is a breathtaking 106m long, with huge pillars and truncated columns. Around the choir are nine chapels and the high altar is surrounded by eight columns.

In the transepts are the sumptuous, richly carved tombs of King Pedro I and his beloved Inês de Castro, a testimony to one of Portugal's great love stories (see our Coimbra page for the story of their tragic romance). In the transept chapels are 17th century painted terracotta figures of monks and a fine 17th century ceramic sculpture of the death of St. Bernard.

To the east of the ambulatory are two fine 16th century Manueline doorways adorned with exotic foliage and elaborate pinnacles. On the west side of the south transept is the Sala dos Tumulos, a funerary chapel containing a number of tombs. On the north side of the church are the medieval monastic buildings.

A doorway in the north aisle leads into the beautiful two-storey Cloisters of Silence, dating from the 14th century. On the north side stands the Gothic fountain-house, while off the northeastern corner of the cloisters is the 18th century Sala dos Reis (King's Room), Alcobaca Abbey church interior so called because statues of practically all the kings of Portugal line the walls. Below the statues are tiles from the 18th century depicting the founding of the abbey.

Nearby is the grand kitchen, described by 18th century traveler William Beckford as "the most distinguished temple of gluttony in all Europe." Tomb inside Alcobaca Abbey It is 18m (60ft) high, with a huge open fireplace and a fish-tank. The adjacent refectory, huge and vaulted, is where the monks ate in silence while the Bible was read to them from the pulpit. Opposite the entrance is a 14th century bathroom embellished with a hexagonal fountain.

Besides this outstanding building, the small town of Alcobaça has little else that stands out besides being a center of a porcelain and pottery industry. There are many shops around the central square, and some factories welcome visitors.

It is a good idea to combine Alcobaça with a visit to Batalha, 20Km (12.5 miles) to the north. Buses connect both towns, as well as to Nazaré, Leiria, Coimbra, and Lisbon.

UNESCO says...

Alcobaça Abbey was declared a World Heritage Site because:
"Its size, the purity of its architectural style, the beauty of the materials and the care with which it was built make this a masterpiece of Cistercian Gothic art."

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Places Nearby

Batalha - European Gothic masterpiece; spectacular underground caves
Fatima - Famous shrine of the Catholic world
Leiria - An old castle in a modern city
Nazare - Colorful, traditional fishing village
Obidos - The wedding present town; Portugal's prettiest medieval village
Peniche - A dream-like nature preserve with underwater activities; fine sandy beaches
Coimbra - Old university town; a tragic love story
Conimbriga - Roman village; Iberia's best preserved Roman mosaics
Tomar - Manueline flourishes in "the home of the knights"; "a haunted castle"



CITIES, TOWNS AND VILLAGES IN PORTUGAL
AROUND LISBON
AND TAGUS VALLEY
Alcobaça
Arrábida
Azeitão
Batalha
Cascais
Ericeira
Estoril
Fatima
Leiria
Mafra
Nazaré
Obidos
Palmela
Peniche
Queluz
Santarém
Sesimbra
Setubal
Sintra
Tomar
ALENTEJO
Beja
Castelo de Vide
Elvas
Estremoz
Evora
Marvão
Mértola
Monsaraz
Vila Viçosa

ALGARVE
Albufeira
Faro
Lagos
Sagres
Silves
Tavira
Vila Real de Santo António
Vilamoura
BEIRAS (CENTRAL PORTUGAL)
Aveiro
Belmonte
Buçaco
Coimbra
Conimbriga
Figueira da Foz
Guarda
Monsanto
Piodão
Serra da Estrela
Viseu

PORTO AND DOURO
Amarante
Lamego
Porto
MINHO
Barcelos
Braga
Gerês National Park
Guimarães
Ponte de Lima
Ponte da Barca
Viana do Castelo

TRAS-OS-MONTES
Bragança
Chaves
Vila Real

THE ISLANDS
Azores
Madeira