Despite the rain again we headed to Batalha or Battle Abbey. We were not sure what to expect but our guide book told us it was one of the must do’s in Portugal. As you approached the small town the view is dominated by the massive Batalha Abbey and its surrounding square. The abbey was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983 because of the richness and originality of its Manueline decoration and as an outstanding example of Portuguese architecture.
The history of the Abbey or the monastery of Santa Maria da Vitoria as its official name was commissioned by Joao, Mestre de Aviz or King John I of Portugal following a vow to the Virgin Mary made in 1385 that if he won the battle against the Castilian army of Spain, that sealed Portugal’s independence from Spain, he would build a magnificent abbey. He won and the new King summoned the finest architects of the day. The construction work began around 1386 and continued until the first two decades of the 16th century under subsequent kings.
Exploring the abbey was awe inspiring.
Firstly the central nave of the church which rises up to 32.5 metres high reminded us of a number of the great cathedrals in Britain such as Winchester Cathedral.
Secondly the Founders Chapel with the ornate tombs of John I and his wife Philippa of Lancaster surrounded by the tombs of their four younger sons one being Prince Henry the Navigator.
Thirdly the highly decorated stone grilles of the Royal Cloister and finally the Unfinished Chapels. These Unfinished Chapels were commissioned in 1437 by King Duarte as a royal mausoleum but after his premature death his son King Manuel I architects transformed the Unfinished Chapels into an exquisite example of the 16th century Manueline art but the work was never finished. The stone work particularly on the Great Portal to the chapels was just stunning and very intricate. With the chapels open to the elements this gave them a unique atmosphere and was a spectacular grand finale of our visit to the abbey.