After getting slightly ‘cathedraled-out’ in Spain, Portugal was a welcome break. Well, not so much because there was less of these structures but visiting Portguese chruches made for a really interesting and refreshing experience.
Consider the church in Alcobaca, the fact that this sleepy, little town-which is not even a regional capital- contains Portgual’s largest church complex is something really worth pondering about.
Now, unlike those in Spain, Portuguese cathedrals dont overwhelm. The Portuguese seem to possess a less flambouyant attitude than their Castillian neighbors when it comes to building churches, somehow, I think this is one of their strengths and is why I found this church particulary attractive.
The church facade. Sometimes, the simplest designs are the best. This is so true with Alcobaca.
The guys who ran the show, a monastic religious group called the Cisterians, are particulary known for the devotion and the simplicity of their cathderals. This is the nave of the church, another welcome break from the excesses of Spanish cathedrals. No gilded altars, towering organs and overpowering statues to lead your thoughts away while you pray. It’s all columns as long as the eyes can see.
A few kilometers away is another Portuguese masterpiece: the Batalha Monastery. Another superb example of the Manueline architecture- a style which celebrated Portugal’s golden Age of Discoveries- this cathedral is actually one over-size thropy.
“Batalha” mean ‘battle’ and this church commmorates the time when Portugal won a war against its love-to-hate neighbors, the Castillians (today’s Spaniards).
Well, the Castillians may been lost but some of their hard-to-die habits may have rubbed off their Portguese neighbor, you see this complex isnt finished yet. Somewhere along the way when it was started in the 1300’s, the builder-to-be decided to abandon it and build an even more impressive Manueline monument in Lisbon, the Monastery of Jeronimos.
Too much siesta perhaps? Or was it the mañana habit?
In any case, it’s still an impressive sight, even for the so called Unfinished Chapels (above).
Now, tucked away in a corner of all these gothic splendors, this unassuming little tomb actually holds one of Portugal’s greats- King Henry the Navigator- the guy whom Macao,Timor and Brazil actually would have to thank for their existence because hadnt it been for Mr. Henry, then Portugal wouldnt have sent her caravels to conquer new lands.
Macao would just be another Chinese city, Brazil would not bore Ronaldinho and we wouldnt be eating Portuguese egg tarts(!).
Big things do come in small packages, thank you Mr. Henry for giving me those yummy egg tarts.