Day three in Portugal involved a visit to one of my favourite places – Batalha. It’s also a place where I have previously managed to embarrass myself hugely by tripping over whilst wearing a dress and flashing my knickers to everyone. True story. But that, dear readers, is a different story for a different day. Besides, the beautiful Monastery that graces the little town is a far better subject of conversation.
The Mosteiro da Batalha is an imposing edifice that greets you as you walk into the centre of the small town and literally means “The Monastery of the Battle” – it was built to commemorate the 1385 Battle of Aljubarrota and to thank the Virgin Mary for the Portuguese victory over the Castilians. It truly is a masterpiece of architectural engineering – something which I seem to say a lot about the historical buildings in Portugal – but it really gives you a sense of importance as you approach it. You can tell it was built for a higher purpose and, whilst I myself am not religious in the slightest, I can understand why the Portuguese people thought the Virgin Mary had a hand in their victory and why they would want to build such a beautiful place to honour her name, and her part, in what had happened. Such was the importance of the place that it would serve as the burial ground of the Portuguese royalty of the fifteenth century – with one of its claims to fame being that it holds the tomb of Henry the Navigator.
Everywhere you look your senses are overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude and beauty of the place. It is covered in incredibly intricate carvings – from the gargoyles on the outside of the monastery to the little faces dotted around inside. It’s no wonder that this place took over a century to build! If you look closely enough as well, you can see masons marks on some of the stonework.
The monastery is also home to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers – this is manned by members of the Portuguese military 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and they make quite a show of their changing of the guard ceremony. It’s truly a sight to behold and each change really does attract a crowd. You can see my video below:
As mentioned the tomb holds the bodies of two soldiers. They both fell in the First World War (Portugal did not take part in World War 2) – one on the fields of Flanders and one from one of the Portuguese colonies in Africa. They were brought to Batalha and buried in 1921.
We finished off the day with a trip to the Aqueduct of Pegões, just outside of Tomar. Now this, this was bloody brilliant. Scary but bloody brilliant. Built in the Seventeenth Century, it stretches for around 6km and is made up of 180 arches, connecting the village of Pegões and its natural springs to the Convento de Cristo. And what is so amazing about this monument is that you can walk along it – you get some absolutely fantastic views over the countryside from that high up!