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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.

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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!

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Photo by S. Morris

On my second day in Portugal, we headed just down the road to the city of Tomar, which is overlooked by the imposing facade of the Convento de Cristo. This building dates back to the Roman period but is most famous for its links to the Templars, and it’s stunning architecture.

In 1160, under the supervision of Gualdim Pais (Master of the Portuguese Templars), work began on rebuilding Tomar castle. The original plan had been to build a Templar fortress in nearby Ceras but this was abandoned. One can still see parts of the original fortress in the complex of the Convento complex.

But it is the Rotunda that really catches your eye as you walk into the complex, through the Sun Gate and past the imposing ramps against the castle walls.

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Photo by S. Morris

The rotunda is what makes the Convento de Cristo so famous – it is one of the most original and emblematic examples of Templar architecture in the world. The interior is particularly beautiful and laid out in a circle which follows the pattern of many Templar buildings – just look at the Templar Church in London! The building of this magnificent structure began in the second half of the twelfth century and continued to around 1190 – it was modelled on other Holy places such as the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, which held a special significance to the Templar Order.

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Photo by S. Morris

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Photo by S. Morris

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Photo by S. Morris

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Photo by S. Morris

After the Templar Order was dissolved in 1307, many of its members in Portugal transferred over to another religious military order, the Order of Christ, rather than face imprisonment and execution and in 1357 the Convento became the official headquarters of the order. This was somewhat ironic given that the Convento had originally been the headquarters of the Templars in Portugal. Indeed there was barely any difference between the two orders – the Brothers still wore the same insignia and were still a military order who carried out the same work as they had before. They even continued to live under Cistercian rule.

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Photo by S. Morris

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Photo by S. Morris

As you walk around this magnificent site, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is so easy to get lost in your imagination and walk alongside Templar knights in their armour, to hear the bustle of the kitchens and the laughter in the banqueting hall. It really is the perfect place for someone who lives and breathes history. There is something incredibly special about the Convento and, despite the many tourists wandering around, it really is a very peaceful place.

Another famous part of the Convento is the Manueline window on the Western facade. Just one look at the carvings here takes your breath away.

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Photo by S. Morris

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Photo by S. Morris

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Photo by S. Morris

The iconography of the window is clearly split into two halves – one is more spiritual and the other more earthly. The earthly side of the window is dominated by the most beautiful carving of a belt buckle. There are a number of coats of arms on this side as well as carvings of knights and roots connected with the earth. The spiritual side is covered in religious carvings such as angels and tree roots not connected to the earth. Interestingly, on the earthly side of the window there are carvings that show links to the Tudor family – you can see the heraldic device of the Order of the Garter, a testament to the investiture of King Manuel to the Order of the Garter by King Henry VII.

Everywhere you look are beautiful little architectural gems. You walk into the cloisters only to see a fountain in the shape of a Templar cross. There are fabulous little carvings everywhere, all of which have meaning, and the place is covered in the most beautiful tile work.

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Photo by S. Morris

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Photo by S. Morris

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Photo by S. Morris

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Photo by S. Morris

The Convento really is worth a visit and I highly recommend doing so if you ever find yourself in the area. It is so full of history that it’s hard to know where to look, and it really does allow you to step back in time.