Inside the Mosteiro de Alcobaça

(Continued from Tuesday’s post. As always, you can click on any image to see a larger version.)

From the church, visitors can pass through the King’s Hall into the monastery proper. The King’s Hall features statues of…take a wild guess…the kings of Portugal, and is covered with azulejos illustrating the founding of the monastery. I spent all my time trying to decipher the old Portuguese script on these azulejos, and forgot to take any photos. (It is really hard to read Portuguese that is a) several hundred years old and b) written in fancy script. Even my wife had to work at it.)

From the King’s Hall, we passed into the Cloister of Silence, one of five (!!) cloisters in this monastery. Only one of those is open to the public, while a second is viewable from above. The other three are off limits.


Much of the cloister and its interior passage was under renovation. This was the only photo I could take that screened out the construction scaffolding, and if you look through the orange tree branches, you can still see some. But I’m fairly happy with my camouflage. (Would you have seen it if I hadn’t told you?)

I took a seat in the sunny cloister to read my brochure and figure out where to go next. As I read, a lovely bit of music started up behind me, unmistakably live. A piano and trombone in a monastery? This I had to see.

chapter house

They were practicing in the Chapter House, the room where the monks would gather to discuss community-related matters. It was constructed in the 13th century and had some additional works done in the early 14th…but all I can say is, the acoustics are beautiful.

My wife was already there, filming on her iPod. The video is unedited and straight off the camera, so viewer beware, but this will show you the Chapter House’s vaulted ceilings, statuary, and complex doorway, and then scan the Cloister’s hallway, arches and windows before coming back to the tomb of a 17th-century abbot right in the doorway. Then of course, there’s the music.

Interesting note: after we left the monastery, we went to a well-regarded restaurant in the next block for lunch. It was packed to the gills with talkative folks who, when they began paying their bills and streaming out, were all carrying odd-shaped backpacks. We’d run into the rest of the musicians! The pianist and trombone player were there as well, confirming it. I’m guessing the chairs in the Chapter House were not for an audience, as I’d originally thought, but for the other musicians.

From here I went upstairs to the Dormitory, which was Monday’s wallpaper, and then found my way to a set of stairs that led to an overlook of the kitchen. Intrigued by that view, I ran down the stairs and around to the kitchen’s ground floor. This is an oddly narrow room, sandwiched between the Monk’s Hall (where the apprentices slept) and the Refectory, where everyone took their meals.

kitchen from door

It’s difficult to grasp the size of this place without any people in it, but what you’re looking at is an enormous tiled chimney, rising over an equally enormous triad of fireplaces. The main one, in the center, is open on all sides and would easily roast an ox. To the right are two smaller, closed-in fireplaces (only one is visible here).

The arches to the left house large sinks with faucets. Remember what I said about the land gift being at the confluence of two rivers? Well, the monastery was built with one corner practically in the river, which was then run through internal canals that gave the building an unheard-of luxury in the 13th century: running water at any time, with the simple twist of a faucet handle.

The faucets are a bit scary, though.


They were probably nicer before age and water eroded much of that stonework, but still…eek.

The square space behind the head is a window into the canal, which runs along the length of this wall.


Take one large step to the right from the previous sink, and you’re in front of this one. This faucet is even scarier than the other.

At the rear of the kitchen is a small pool, which probably acts as a sump for the canal water. From here you can look back toward the door and see the giant fireplace more clearly.

kitchen from rear

That chimney is about three stories high.

My wife found this space intriguing as well, so if you’d like another (unedited) visual tour, here it is. She starts by the pool in the back, and eventually ends up in the fireplaces. One nice thing about her video is that there are people in it to provide some size perspective.

After the food was cooked in the kitchen, it was carried next door to the refectory, yet another glorious space.


But somebody at this monastery was a downer. Carved into the entrance to this amazing room is a Latin admonition: “Consider that you eat the sins of the people.”

I should note that the monastery wasn’t as empty as these photos make it seem. In fact, there was a huge bus tour group going through while we were there, but I soon realized that they were hitting each room in order as they were listed on the brochure — so I started at the end (the refectory) and worked my way backwards. This turned out perfectly; I never ran into the tour group except in the hallways of the Cloister as we all passed from one room to the next.


On one side of the refectory is a stone pulpit, reached by stairs seemingly carved right into the wall. As the monks ate their meals, one of them would stand on this platform and read aloud from the Bible. No other talking was permitted.

Of course I had to climb up there.

pulpit view

Thanks to the height (and the fortuitous appearance of a single person), this photo gives a better idea of the size of the room.

Is it irreverent to admit that my first thought was “I can totally see the long tables of Hogwart’s in here”? And the floating candles, too.

You might think we’re done at this point, but we’ve still got one thing to cover: the tombs of Dom Pedro and Inês de Castro. They are amazing. I’ll work on them tomorrow.

(…aaaand, whew, got this up before midnight!)


About Fletcher DeLancey

Socialist heathen and Mac-using author of the Chronicles of Alsea, who enjoys pondering science, politics, well-honed satire (though sarcastic humor can work, too) and all things geeky.
This entry was posted in Portugal, travel. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Inside the Mosteiro de Alcobaça

  1. Hick Crone says:

    Was the kitchen the only place with that tiling? That is really pretty. The giant chimney makes me think more of ventilation than cooking. What an interesting place. Thank you for sharing.

    • oregon expat says:

      So far as I can remember, yes, the kitchen was the only place with that tiling. But visitors are only allowed in half the total space, so there might be other rooms that have it.

  2. Cathy White says:

    What wonderful pictures. You were right about the people giving perspective to the size of the cook pit. From the stand alone photo it did not seem that big, but after the vid I could see what you meant about roasting an ox. Any idea if the taps were male or female? Was it mostly original stonework or restoration work, as it seems in really good condition for its age?

    • oregon expat says:

      Yes, it seems I was a little TOO successful at keeping my photos tourist-free. That one really needed a person.

      The faucets are male. And the one I showed with a full sink is actually an angry male — the brow is lowered in a scowl. Imagine facing that first thing in the morning when you’re on KP duty.

      As for the tiling…my brochure says this was not the original medieval kitchen, which was located in a different spot, but is instead baroque. That makes the tiles somewhat newer, but even if they’re late Baroque, they’re still 300 years old. (Early Baroque would make them 400 years old.)

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