Day trip to Mafra, Alcobaca, Batalha and Obidos

On Saturday, February 23rd we arranged for a day tour with our previous guide, Daniel, to Mafra, Alcobaca and Obidos. On the way, we pass many wind turbines and Daniel tells us that Portugal now gets 62% of its energy from renewable resources of which 40% is from wind and the remainder from solar, hydro and biomass. Interestingly enough, there are many old windmills in the same area.

We were also talking about pollution and Daniel tells us that all older cars are subject to emission testing on a regular basis.

Our first stop of the day was the Palacio de Mafra some 40 kms north west of Lisbon. It was built in the 18th century by order of King Joao V to fulfill a vow he made, to be blessed with an heir from his marriage to Maria Ana of Austria, or be cured of a serious illness. I have heard this over and over and it seems that a lot of monasteries, churches and palaces built for these reasons.

The Royal Convent and Palace of Mafra is the most important baroque monument in Portugal. All in limestone and marble from the region, the building covers an area of almost four hectares and includes 1,200 rooms, more than 4,700 doors and windows, 156 stairways and many courtyards. The scope and magnificence of the building was possible due to the Brazilian gold that Portugal brought to the country. The king ordered sculptures and art from Italian, French and Portuguese artists. Daniel told us that normally a monastery is where monks resided and a convent is where nuns resided. He does not know why this monument is known as “The Royal Convent” as at one time up to 300 monks lived there.

As we are touring the Palace, we comment on how cold it is and cannot see any means of heating the Palace. One of the docents working in the palace told us that this was a summer palace only and was used mainly for hunting. You will see in the some of the pictures the reference to hunting.

One of the most magnificent rooms I think was the library. It is said to be one of the most important libraries in Europe and holds 36,000 volumes devoted to 18th century knowledge.

The furnishings, paintings, sculptures, painted ceilings and floors are simply impeccable in this palace. Even the long halls are magnificent; I especially love the royal yellows and light blues that are used throughout. Our guide book says that most of the finest furniture and art works were taken to Brazil when the royal family escaped the French invasion in the early 1800’s. I would say what is left is still quite spectacular.

It appears that part of the convent was used as a convalescent hospital for monks. One chapel had side rooms with beds; I imagine mass was held for the sick as they laid in bed. The monastery (convent) was abandoned when all religious orders were banned.

As we make our way through the various rooms, we finally enter the “hunting room”…kind of creepy for me. Even chairs and a table made of antlers.

The basilica has twin bell towers and has six organs.

We then venture outside in the gardens to find hawks and owls tethered, after all it was a hunting palace.

On the way to our next stop we see many vineyards and orchards, beautiful countryside.

Our next stop is Alcobaca to visit the Alcobaca Monastery, which is located 120 kms north of Lisbon. The building of the monastery began in 1178 by order of the first Portuguese king, Alfonso Henriques and was the first gothic building to be built in Portugal. Construction of the church was finished in 1252. It is a Unesco World Heritage Site…..one more for our list.

Many monarchs were buried here in the 15th and 16th centuries and we were able to see the beautifully carved tombs of King Pedro 1 and his mistress, Ines de Castro. The nave is 20 metres high (65 feet) and very impressive. The interior is quite simple as are the various columns.

We stop for lunch at a beautiful countryside restaurant (O Cabeco) in the hills above Alcobaca. I must say that one would not find these great out of the way places unless you were with a guide. It was a Saturday and full of locals. Food was great and setting was so peaceful. Even the local dog to greet you when you arrived and a couple of goats keeping the grass under control.

On to Batalha to see the Monastery of Batalha, which is also a Unesco World Heritage Site. This monastery was built to commemorate the battle of 1385 against the Castillians (the battle of Aljubarrota) and was originally called the Monastery of Saint Mary of the Victory. It took over a century to build (1386 to 1517) and spanned the reign of seven kings. Many different architects were used and one of the outer chapels is referred to as the “unfinished chapel”. It has no ceiling and is exposed to the elements.

Our last stop of the day is Obidos, a charming walled town with narrow cobbled streets and traditionally painted houses. It has a medieval castle which was given to one of the Queen’s of Portugal for her wedding. The town is very quaint but I think it is one of those places that would be overrun with tourists in the height of the season. Every second shop had ginga tasting (sour cherry liqueur), sold chocolates and tourist kitsch. It kind of reminded me of Mont St. Michel in France in many ways. We did have a ginga tasting with our guide Daniel, but the best part was that the ginga was served in edible chocolate cups! Even an old Roman aqueduct just outside the castle.

In our travels we have often seen the Knights Templar symbol. Daniel told us that if we looked closely, the symbol was somewhat different. When all christian organizations were banished from Europe it was felt that the Knights Templar were simply too powerful. The King of Portugal was able to convince the Pope that he would start a new organization under his purview. Basically he just renamed them the Order of Christ and changed the cross symbol just a little. To this day, the President of Portugal is always the head of the Order of Christ.

We are told by Daniel that the weather this February has been somewhat warmer and they have had less rain than previous years.

Another great day of seeing new places with our guide Daniel.

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