When Ghotic meets Manueline architectural style a stunning beauty emerges. Batalha Monastery is the perfect example of this incredible merger
The history of Batalha Monastery starts in the 14th century. Like Alcobaca Monastery, Batalha or Battle was built after the Portuguese army won a battle. This time it was not the Moors they battle with but a Castilian army. The Kingdom of Castile was claiming the throne of Portugal. But this small kingdom was not going to giving the throne to Castile without putting on a fight. Like in David and Goliath story, in 1385 at Alijubarrota, the 6000 men lead by general Nuno Álvares Pereira defeated the 30000 men of the Castilian army.
It was an epic battle, particularly because judging by the numbers, the odds were not on the Portuguese side. But big does not necessarily mean better. To 6000 soldiers ad the real genius of a general that knew how to use the terrain to his advantage and was able to use battle tactics that lead his army to victory. Because during the battle King Joao l prayed for help to Virgin Mary, he promised to build a monastery to commemorate this victory.
This victory was important because it put an end to Castilian claims after two very difficult years marked by battles between Castilians and Portugues armies. Till then the good knowledge in warfare of general Nuno Álvares Pereira nor the bubonic plague were not able to stop them. But after this battle Joao l, the bastard son of King Pedro, you remember Pedro and Ines story in my previous article about Alcobca Monastery, established a new dynasty. It was named Aviz Dynasty because Joao l was Master of the Aviz Order. Actually, the kings of Portugal were either Master of Order of Christ or Aviz Order.
Until now I established the historical context that led to the foundation of Batalha Monastery, now is time to talk a bit about it.
23 km inland, 140 km from Lisbon and 14 km from the site where the battle of Alijubarrota took place lies the beautiful Batalha Monastery. The incredible beauty of this monastery is the product of numerous factors. Starting from the fact that it took more than 100 years to be completed. When the construction was started in 1386 the Gothic style was closer to the end. The influence of Gothic style can be seen especially inside the church where the tall impressive nave is the perfect example of it. But because it took so long to complete and passed under the reign of seven kings and five different architects Batalha became a true architectural jewel.
The heavy Gothic style was improved by a touch of rich and extravagant Manueline style. Now, I should explain what is all about this Manueline style considering the fact that is mostly specific to the Iberian Peninsula and Portuguese colonies.
The rich and lavish Manueline style it is similar to Rocco in a way because it was meant to express the owner’s wealth. It appeared during the reign of King Manuel I being a consequence of the great wealth the Kingdom of Portugal was achieving during the Age of Discovery.
Portuguese are a sea-faring people have a special connection with the ocean and I might add with Virgin Mary as well. Also, since the Silk Road, the trading routes along the Middle East and the navigation on Mediterranean sea became dangerous with the rising of the Ottoman threat, they tried to find a safer route towards Indies although at that time the ocean was also a big unknown. Their bold move paid off and they became the first colonial power. This period is characterized by great riches and the sober Gothic style got enriched by the influences of the Moorish style and Spanish Plateresque.
Batalha it`s impressive. The moment I saw it a big ` Wow ` came out of my mouth. My glance was sliding along the walls following the delicate contours of intricate and lavish decorations. I could not stop thinking about the amount of word need it to do such thing. Because everywhere I looked the stone looked like a gigantic lacework.
The part that impressed me the was Capelas Imprefeitas or Unfinished Capels. The works on the monastery lasted more than 100 years and even when the works stopped the monastery was not finished. This can be seen the best in the Unfinished Chapels. The chapels were commissioned in 1437 and by 1532 the overall works on the monastery stopped. This part of the monastery is an octogonal building without rooftop with access from outside. It is truly remarkable and an example of Manueline style at his best. It was started by an architect but the original plans were successively altered by the following architects. Its Manueline motifs spheres, winged angels, ropes, circles, tree stumps, clover-shaped arches and florid projections are eye-catching. The moment you find yourself in the middle of this majestic building and you look up to the sky and see the unfinished buttresses you realize that this construction does not need a vault because the vault it is the sky itself. I had an eerie feeling when I was standing in the middle of the Unfinished Capels. It`s imperfection was actually what makes it so beautiful, so perfect.
A dark period for Batalha Monastery was during the 19th century. The Napoleonic wars brought massive destruction and by 1834 when the Dominican Monks were expelled from the monastery, it was already in ruins. By 1840 Ferdinand ll begins the restoration that lasts almost 80 years. It is declared national monument and in 1983 was added by UNESCO to the World Heritage Sites.
I have seen by now numerous places around Portugal, been marvelled by all of them. Each and every one of them has something that makes them stand out, in Batalha`s case, it is its incredible architecture that makes a true gem of this land blessed by the Ocean.
If you want to visit Portugal, give yourself a lot of time, you have so many things to see, a lot of places to go to…