The Batalha Monastery ("the monastery of the battle") in central Portugal is one of those rare gems that, despite being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, doesn't attract huge numbers of visitors.
The ornate, Late Gothic building showcases the skill of medieval Portuguese architects and stonemasons, with many unique features that hadn't been seen in the country before. Rewarding unhurried exploration, it's the kind of place you can decide to call into for a quick visit and find yourself still inside several hours later.
If you're planning a trip to Batalha Monastery, we've covered everything you need to know, from the history and architecture to practical details like costs and how to make the most of your visit.
As its name might suggest, the monastery exists solely because of a military victory. In 1385, despite being outnumbered and poorly equipped, the troops of King João I won the Battle of Aljubarrota against the Castilians nearby. The most famous battle in Portuguese history, it ensured the country its independence and started a new royal dynasty.
Before the battle, João prayed for help from the Virgin Mary, promising that if he won, he would build a great monument to the saint. True to his word, construction started soon after, with the monastery taking well over 150 years—and huge financial and human resources—to complete.
Originally and officially called the Mosteiro de Santa Maria da Vitória (Monastery of Saint Mary of the Victory), the building was somewhat damaged by the Lisbon earthquake in 1755, then ransacked and set alight by conquering Napoleonic troops a little over fifty years later.
After the dissolution of the monasteries in Portugal in 1834, the building was abandoned. A few years later, however, King Ferdinand II started a restoration program to save Batalha Monastery from falling into ruins. Completed by the early twentieth century, the rebuilt monastery was declared a national monument in 1907, and a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983.
Architecture and Features
The monastery is predominantly a Late Gothic masterpiece, although hints of other architectural styles can be seen throughout. Ornate archways and detailed stonework abound, with sculptures of saints and other religious figures featuring heavily around the exterior. A mounted statue of Nuno Álvares Pereira, the military genius responsible for winning the Battle of Aljubarrota (and many others) sits in the gardens outside the entrance.
Inside, the most obvious feature of the main cloister is just how narrow it seems. While the original architect intended a more traditional design, his successor raised the height of the nave to over 100 feet, while leaving the width at the existing 72 feet. This led to an unusual, towering perspective, only accentuated by the relatively austere walls and columns that draw the eye upward to the ceiling.
That architect, Huguet, was also responsible for adding two additional chapel areas to the complex, including what is now the monastery's most famous feature, the Imperfect Chapels.
Around the corner from the main building, these small chapels were built to house the tombs of the first seven Portuguese kings but, when the workers on the project were called away to build the famous Jerónimos Monastery in Belem instead, the roof and ceiling were never completed.
They remain open to the sky to this day, giving insight into medieval construction methods.
Several prominent figures from Portuguese history are buried at Batalha Monastery, including King João I and his wife Philippa, along with their famous son, Henry the Navigator.
There is also a museum to the fallen dead from military campaigns throughout the ages, including two unknown Portuguese soldiers from World War I. The room's unsupported 200-square-foot vault was considered such a daring architectural ambition at the time that condemned prisoners were used to construct it! That may not have been bad idea—it took two failed attempts to get it right.
How to Visit
Batalha Monastery sits on the edge of the small town of the same name in central Portugal. A few hotels give the option of staying in the town if you wish, but most visitors come for a few hours from popular nearby spots like Nazare, Alcobaça or Fatima instead.
If you have your own transport, it's also possible to take a day trip from Lisbon or Porto—driving from either city should take two hours or less. Parking is easily available onsite and in surrounding streets.
An infrequent bus service from Lisbon also runs throughout the day, taking two hours to get to Batalha, but check the return times carefully if you plan to get back to the capital on the same day. Buses also run from Nazare, taking about an hour.
Most visitors spend an hour or two at the site, but if Gothic architecture is of particular interest, plan for a half-day visit. While there are no restaurants or cafes on site, several eating and drinking options are available in town within a short work.
Free public toilets are available, even if you haven't paid to enter the monastery. The building is fully accessible for those with reduced mobility and wheelchairs are available, if required.
Tickets and Opening Hours
As with many historic Portuguese buildings outside the capital, tickets to Batalha Monastery are surprisingly inexpensive.
An adult ticket costs 6 euros. Entry is free for children 12 and under, those with reduced mobility and on the first Sunday of every month. Half price entry is available to seniors aged 65 and over, people with disabilities, and those with student or youth cards. Family tickets are also available, offering the same discount.
A combination ticket is available that also covers the UNESCO-listed Monastery of Alcobaça and Convent of Christ in Tomar, costing 15 euros. You can pay by cash or card.
Opening hours over summer (April 1 to October 15) are from 9:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., seven days a week, and from 9:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. the rest of the year. Last entry is half an hour beforehand. The monastery is closed on January 1, Easter Sunday, May 1, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.