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Monastery of Alcobaça

The Monastery of Alcobaça was one of the first Cistercian foundations in Portugal.

It became the main centre of this religious order, as a result of a continuous policy of royal protection begun by King Afonso Henriques. The Monastery’s extant medieval structures are unique in the world. Besides, its later additions, dating from the 16th through to the 18th centuries, bear an important testimony to the evolution of Portuguese architecture.

Foundation of the Abbey of Saint Mary of Alcobaça and its donation charter date from 8 April 1153.  The Cistercian land was therefore delimited by then. On the contrary, the borders of the Kingdom of Portugal advanced south towards the Tagus River following the conquest of the towns of Santarém and Lisbon in 1147. This move called for a quick and efficient human settlement so that the Christian expansion would proceed southwards. Militia from the Order of the Temple protected the lands held in demesne from Moorish invasions. The focal point for this dynamics was the abbey, its construction having begun in 1178.  This date has an important “strategic” meaning as four years later Saint

Bernard was canonised. It was certainly one of the first abbeys of this Order to be built with this intention in mind. The importance of the Monastery of Alcobaça increased accordingly in cultural, religious and ideological terms. The more limpid and austere its architecture, the more obvious its monumentality became. It was surely the first example of Gothic architecture in Portugal: a model that would only be reproduced much later as it was originally an isolated white jewel against a vast landscape. The Monastery is inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

Source: DGPC (