Memorial monument of the battle of Aljubarrota and royal pantheon, whose construction began in the late 14th century with the patronage of D. João I, the Dominican Monastery of Batalha is the most significant building of Portuguese Gothic. Its vast outbuildings today are an excellent example of the evolution of medieval architecture until the beginning of the 16th century, from the unprecedented experience of the late Gothic to the decorative profusion of the Manueline.
The Monastery of Santa Maria da Vitória, also called Batalha Monastery, is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful works of Portuguese and European architecture.
This exceptional architectural ensemble resulted from the fulfillment of a promise made by King D. João I, in gratitude for the victory in Aljubarrota, a battle fought on August 14, 1385, which secured the throne and guaranteed the independence of Portugal.
Dom João I is buried there, in the Founder’s Chapel, next to his wife, D. Filipa and their children.
The works lasted more than 150 years, through several phases of construction. This duration justifies the existence, in his artistic proposals, of Manueline (predominant) Gothic solutions and a brief Renaissance note. Several additions were introduced in the initial project, resulting in a vast monastic ensemble that currently features a church, two cloisters with outbuildings and two royal pantheons, the Founder’s Chapel and the Imperfect Chapels.
The abyssal Chapter Room reveals an immense vault, without any central support. The project is considered one of the most audacious in European Gothic architecture.
The story goes that the architect Afonso Domingues, already blind, soon after having made this vault, would have stayed there for three days and three nights to see if he resisted, to watch his greatest work or die with it.
Made by D Duarte are the Imperfect Chapels which, despite the name, are absolutely majestic. Only that they were never finished and remained so, incomplete but spectacular.
National monument, the monastery is part of the UNESCO World Heritage List, since 1983.
If you ask a Portuguese what is a typical street food in Portugal, they will answer: a bifana. Now the question is “What’s that?”
In Portugal, you will find a lot of sandwiches whose role it is to provide a quick meal, sometimes with only a bowl of soup to complement. I know for a lot of people a sandwich would be enough, but we like to have more filling meals.
You will know that one of the main sandwiches in the country, enjoyed from north to south, is the bifana. Simply put, it’s a steak sandwich. A pork steak, to be more specific, seasoned with garlic and spices, then put inside a bread roll.
Seems basic enough, doesn’t it?
Yet, everywhere you will try one it will taste different.
And this is the beauty of it! How is it possible that a piece of steak can fit so perfectly in a bread roll and present you with a mix of flavors that will make your taste buds spin?!
In the North of the country, it is usually made with little pieces of steak that have been spiced and seasoned in a big pot with sauce, and it’s usually a bit spicy. The bread is a simple white bread roll, that ends up being moistened with the steak sauce. As you go further south, though, the steak is no longer cut and is instead beat with a mallet, it is mostly garlicky and not spicy at all – instead, they suggest you eat it simple or with mustard. Also, the bread is lightly toasted. And, sadly, there is less sauce as well.
But which one is the original?
It is said that the original one comes from the town of Vendas Novas in Alentejo, in the south of the country.
Anyway it is so typical in Portugal that also Mac Donald had to introduce a Mac Bifana in its menu.
How can you make a Bifana?
- 4 sandwich bread rolls (Portuguese papo seco)
- 1½ lb pork cutlets , sliced very thin
- 5 cloves garlic , chopped
- 2 oz. lard
- ½ cup white wine
- 3 bay leaves
- Juice of a lemon
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- Pepper , freshly ground
- In a container, place a layer of cutlets and season with salt, pepper, bay leaf, paprika, lemon juice and garlic.
- If necessary, make several layers with all the cutlets, seasoning them the same way at each layer.
- Finally, pour the white wine over the cutlets and marinate for 3 hours in the refrigerator.
- In a large frying pan, hear the lard over medium heat.
- Drain the cutlets and reserve the marinade. Fry them in lard over high heat, turning them constantly.
- Once the cutlets are fried, add the reserved marinade and cook over medium heat until the liquid has evaporated by half.
- Toast the bread loaves.
- Fill each bread with cutlets and drizzle with the remaining sauce.
In 1983, UNESCO declared a priceless jewel of Western history a “World Heritage Site” monument: the Templar Castle and the Convento dos Cavaleiros de Cristo in Tomar. This vast monumental complex, built on an ancient Roman place of worship, tells us about seven centuries of Portuguese history and the most salient moments in Western history.
Afonso Henriques, the first king of Portugal, donated a vast region between the Mondego and Tagus rivers to the Knights of the Temple of Jerusalem. Legend has it that, in 1160, the knights who arrived on the spot chose a mountain to build a castle and the name they would have given it: Tomar. In 1314, the Order of the Temple was extinguished due to the persecutions of the king of France, Philip the Fair. But thanks to D. Dinis, in 1319 people, goods and privileges were completely integrated into a new order – the Militia of the Knights of Christ – which together with the Infante D. Henrique would support the Portuguese nation in the great enterprise of maritime discoveries. of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The Tomar Castle then became a Convent and seat of the Order and the Infante Henry the Navigator their Governor and perpetual Administrator.
Originally it was a fortified castle that served to defend the Christian kingdom from the aggression of the Moors, who were pressing on the borders.
Today the Convent of Christ order is a mix of Gothic, Romanesque, Manueline and Renaissance styles, but you don’t need to be an architecture expert to appreciate its beauty.
Strolling through its eight courtyards, each one different from the other, and admiring the richness of the sculptures and decorations makes you feel inside a time machine.
One of the most extraordinary parts of the Convent of Christ is the Charola, a 16-sided Templar church, built in imitation of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. It is said that its circular plan is due to the fact that the riders could participate in the functions remaining in the saddle of their horse.
Seen from the outside, the church and the chapter house are a riot of Manueline decorations: capitals, sculptures, gargoyles, ropes, Templar symbols … A beautiful example is the Manueline janela, a richly decorated window on the western side of the church, which can be best admired from the adjacent Closter of Santa Bárbara.
Among the eight courtyards of the Convento de Cristo, the Renaissance-style Main Closter or of Dom João III leaves you speechless. It is a two-storey cloister, connected by helical staircases on the four corners, with a fountain in the center in the shape of a Templar cross. The atmosphere is truly suggestive, you feel transported back in time.
The Jeronimos Monastery is the most famous and visited monument in Lisbon, and not only is it an exceptional architectural work but also an important symbol of Portuguese identity and culture.
This masterpiece of the Manueline style, an exquisitely Portuguese artistic expression that mixes late-Gothic and Renaissance elements and Arabesque elements, was founded by the will of King Don Manuel I near the place where Henry the Navigator, a key figure for the overseas expansion of Portugal , had built a church dedicated to Saint Mary of Belém, Our Lady of Bethlehem. When the sailors were about to make a long journey, they went to this church to entrust themselves to the Madonna. Vasco da Gama was no exception before his expedition to the Indies. It was then that King D Manuel promised, if successful, to build an even larger church on that church, and then decided to turn it into his family’s pantheon.
It was built in 1502 on a project by the architect Diogo Boytac and dedicated to San Geronimo; many Portuguese, French and Spanish artists collaborated in its realization. The order of Jeronimos was dissolved in 1833: from then until 1940 the monastery was used as a school and orphanage; in 1907 it was declared a national monument and in 1983 a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In its five centuries of history, the monastery has attracted poets, navigators, kings and artists and was the burial place of nobles and explorers: today it is one of the main tourist attractions of Lisbon.
The Gothic-looking Church of Santa Maria houses the cenotaphs of Vasco de Gama and the poet Luís Vaz de Camões (whose bones were transported here); the choir is also of considerable value, with finely carved wooden seats.
The cloister is probably the monastery’s most amazing attraction: one of the most beautiful in Europe, it is square in shape and measures 55 meters on each side, with two rows of windows along all sides. It is a triumph of Manueline decorations, the fantastic creatures of the upper balustrade and the symbols of the era in which the cloister was built, such as the armillary sphere and the cross of the military Order.
The entrance portal, although smaller than the south portal, is the most important: symbolically oriented to the east, it is the access point to the church, perfectly in line with the main altar. Designed by Boitaca, it was built by Nicolau Chanterenne in 1517. On both sides of the door there are statues of a monarch in the respectful act of prayer: Don Manuel I with San Geronimo on the left and Queen Maria with San Giovanni Battista on the right. On the upper part it is possible to see three niches with sculptural groups depicting the Annunciation, the birth of Christ and the adoration of the Magi. It is difficult to believe that the south door is, technically speaking, only a secondary entrance: its magnificent decorations make it the element of greatest visual impact of the entire facade. The central figure represents Our Lady of Belém with the Child, at the bottom the saints and apostles and at the top a statue of the Archangel Michael dominates the entire composition.
Today is the day dedicated to Art and I decided to write an article about one of the Portuguese works of art that I love the most.
It is the most famous work of Portuguese jewelry, for its artistic merit and historical significance: the Monstrance of Belém, exhibited at the MNAA (National Museum of Ancient Art) in Lisbon.
Ordered by King D. Manuel I for the Monastery of Santa Maria de Belém (Better known as Jerónimos Monastery), the Ostensory of Belém is attributable to the goldsmith and playwright Gil Vicente.
It was made with the gold of the tribute of the Régulo de Quilôa (in present Tanzania), in a sign of vassalage to the crown of Portugal, brought by Vasco da Gama on the return of his second trip to India, in 1503, it is a good example of the taste for pieces conceived as microarchitecture in the final Gothic.
Intended to guard and expose the consecrated host to the veneration of the faithful, it presents, in the center, the twelve apostles kneeling, hovering over them a oscillating dove, in white enameled gold, symbol of the Holy Spirit, and, in the upper plane, the figure of God the Father, who sustains the globe of the Universe, thus materializing, in the ascension sense, the representation of the Most Holy Trinity.
The armillary spheres, symbols of King Manuel I, that define the knot, as if to unite two worlds (the terrain, which spreads at the base, and the supernatural, which rises in the upper structure), appear as the maximum consecration of royal power in this historic moment of oceanic expansion, confirming the spirit of the King’s company that was forever linked to the era of Portuguese maritime expansion.
A work that leaves truly speechless for the artistic quality, the materials and the perfection of its realization in the smallest details.
The MNAA preserves this and many representative works of Portuguese and international art; a place that art lovers cannot miss. Even better if accompanied by an art historian in love with this Museum 😉
So, what do you expect to book a visit with me?
The ruins of the monastery of Santa Clara-a-Velha are located in the city of Coimbra, Portugal. The monastery was built in the 14th century on the left bank of the Mondego River, but was abandoned in the 17th century due to frequent floods. The well-preserved Gothic ruins of the monastery were found in the late 20th century, more than 300 years after being abandoned by the nuns.
The Monastery of Santa Clara was built at the behest of Isabella of Aragon, the Holy Queen, to replace a small convent of Poor Clares founded in 1286. The construction of the temple, whose plan is the work of the architect Domingos Domingues, who previously had worked at the Alcobaça Monastery, ended in 1330.
The monastery of Santa Clara in Coimbra was built in the 1280s by Mor Dias as the home of the Order of the Poor Clares. This ancient monastery was abandoned in 1311, only to be used again in 1314 by Isabella, wife of King Dinis. Isabella was admired for her pious and charitable nature, and her devotion led to her canonization in 1626. The Queen’s palace, of which only ruins remain, was located near the monastery.
The works promoted by the Queen began in 1316 at the same point as the previous foundation and gave rise to the ensemble that exists today. The first architect associated with the monastery was Domingos Domingues, who had worked on the cloisters of the Alcobaça monastery. His work was continued after 1326 by Estêvão Domingues, who had worked on the cloisters of the Lisbon cathedral. The church was consecrated in 1330 and was influenced by the Alcobaça building in its floor plan and many other architectural details. Elizabeth died in 1336 and was buried in the monastery in an imposing Gothic tomb. A large cloister was built on the south side of the church in the 14th century.
Already in 1331 the monastery and the church had been flooded by the nearby Mondego river. Due to its location, the monastery was repeatedly flooded by the river in the following centuries, and the nuns of the monastery raised the floor level of the monastic buildings to reduce the damage caused by the floods. Despite the problems, the monastery was often enriched by donations. At the beginning of the 16th century, under King Manuel I, the church was decorated with Sevillian tiles and several painted altarpieces.
The complex is distinguished from its architecture by the size of the church and cloister and by the stone vault that covers three naves of similar size. In the 17th century, King D. João IV had a new convent built on an elevated point of the city, which took the name of Santa Clara-a-Nova, and ordered the nuns to abandon the structure. The last nuns left the complex in 1677. The Gothic tombs of Queen Isabella and other royal princesses were moved to the new building.
Over the centuries the ancient monastery fell into disrepair and was partially covered by the marshes of the Mondego river. Its historical and architectural importance led it to be declared a national monument in 1910, and some conservation works were carried out in the first half of the 20th century.
At the end of the twentieth century, the impressive restoration works brought to light the structures and a vast and diversified heritage of finds. Once again open to visits, the Monastery represents a recreational area in a large open-air path that includes the church and the restored archaeological structures.
The Royal Palace of Nossa Senhora da Ajuda was built by D. José I (1714-1777) at the top of the Ajuda hill. This building, built in wood to better resist earthquakes, became known as Paço de Madeira or Real Barraca. It replaced the sumptuous Paço da Ribeira that had been destroyed in the earthquake that devastated Lisbon in November 1755.
The new Palace, habitable since 1761, became the residence of the Court for about three decades. In 1794, during the reign of D. Maria I (1734-1816), a fire completely destroyed this royal home and much of its valuable contents.
The project for the construction of a new stone and lime palace, started in 1796 under the regency of the prince royal D. João, but was suspended after five years of construction, when, in 1802, Francisco Xavier Fabri and José da Costa e Silva, architects trained in Italy, they were charged with adapting it to the new neoclassical trend.
The Court’s departure for Brazil in 1807, following the Napoleonic invasions, and the periodic lack of financial resources did not allow the project to continue on a regular basis.
The clashes between liberals and absolutists plunged the country into fragile stability and, in 1833, construction came to a complete standstill. After the liberal victory, D. Pedro assumed the Government as regent, in the minority of his daughter, D. Maria da Glória, and swore the Constitutional Charter in the Throne Room of Paço da Ajuda, in 1834.
It was with the accession to the throne of D. Luís I (1838-1889), that a new stage began, finally acquiring the true dimension of royal palace when chosen for the official residence of the court. The real changes in the decoration of the interiors began in 1862, the year of the king’s wedding with the princess of Savoy, D. Maria Pia (1847-1911). Then, a long reformulation work was initiated that extended to several levels: from walls to ceilings – lined, plastered or painted again -, to the covering of floors with parquets and carpets, to the choice of furniture for the rooms. Everything ordered from specialized houses, Portuguese or foreign, that supply Casa Real. The wedding gifts and goods brought from Italy by the queen helped decorate the refurbished apartments.
The spaces were now wanted to be more intimate and protected. New rooms were added on the ground floor: the Dining Room, for daily family meals, a living room – the Blue Room – and leisure areas, such as the Marble Room and the Billiards Room; finally, the bathrooms have running water, hot and cold. The noble floor was reserved for gala receptions and the ground floor, from the Music Room and along the west façade, intended for private rooms. The Palace became the stage for the meetings of the Council of State, of the days of great gala – banquets and official receptions – and of family life: here were born the princes D. Carlos (1863-1908) and D. Afonso (1865 -1920).
After the death of D. Luís I, in 1889, the agitated life of the Palácio da Ajuda changed profoundly. In the new reign, the Court was divided between three Paços: Ajuda, where D. Maria Pia remained with D. Afonso; Belém – where princes D. Luís Filipe (1887-1908) and D. Manuel (1889-1932) were born – and Necessidades, alternative residences of D. Carlos I and D. Amélia (1865-1951). The prime floor of Ajuda was reserved for official ceremonies.
In 1910, when the Republic was established and the Royal Family was subsequently exiled, the Palace was closed.
In 2007, the Palace, together with the other national palaces, became part of the group of properties under the tutelage of the Institute of Museums and Conservation.
Today it is the scene of the protocolary ceremonies of representation of the State.
In the period that celebrates the resurrection of Christ, there is an element common to all tables in Portugal, the Easter folar, a delicious cake in its simplicity whose history and traditions are important to know. With one or more hard-boiled eggs on top, the most popular folar is made from a dry dough with a little bit of cinnamon and makes everyone’s delight, from the smallest to the oldest. You know, for sure, that this is traditionally offered to godchildren on Easter Sunday. The reason? A legend that associates folar with friendship and reconciliation, important values to transmit at any time of the year.
The legend of Easter folar is so old that its date of origin is unknown.
Legend has it that, in a Portuguese village, there lived a young woman named Mariana who had the only desire in life to marry early. She prayed to Santa Catarina so much that her will was fulfilled and soon two suitors appeared: a rich nobleman and a poor farmer, both young and handsome. The young woman again asked Santa Catarina for help in making the right choice.
While concentrating on her prayer, she knocked on the door Amaro, the poor farmer, asking for an answer and setting Palm Sunday as the deadline. A little while later, on that same day, the nobleman appeared to ask him for a decision. Mariana didn’t know what to do.
When Palm Sunday arrived, a neighbor was very distressed to warn Mariana that the nobleman and the farmer had met on the way to her home and that, at that moment, they were fighting a death struggle. Mariana ran to the place where the two were facing each other and it was then that, after asking Santa Catarina for help, Mariana released the name of Amaro, the poor farmer.
On the eve of Easter Sunday, Mariana was tormented, because she had been told that the nobleman would show up on his wedding day to kill Amaro. Mariana prayed to Santa Catarina and the image of Santa, it seems, smiled at her.
The next day, Mariana went to put flowers on the altar of the Saint and, when she arrived home, she noticed that, on the table, there was a big cake with whole eggs, surrounded by flowers, the same ones that Mariana had put on the altar. She ran to Amaro’s house, but found him on the way and he told her that he had also received a similar cake.
Thinking it was the nobleman’s idea, they went to her house to thank her, but he had also received the same type of cake. Mariana was convinced that everything had been the work of Santa Catarina.
Initially called folore, the cake came to be known as folar over time and became a tradition that celebrates friendship and reconciliation. During Christian Easter festivities, godchildren usually bring a bouquet of violets to the baptism godmother on Palm Sunday, and the latter, on Easter Sunday, offers him a folar in return.
Easter is only a few days away. And Portugal is a country with many traditions linked to that moment of the liturgical year.
In all regions of the country, various religious events take place throughout the holy week, which begins on Palm Sunday and ends on Easter Sunday. In some cities, certain rituals are featured, but these same rituals can occur in several locations at the same time.
One of the most valued Easter rituals in Portugal is the Compass Pascal, performed over 500 years ago. The streets are taken by small religious groups who leave the churches with a cross and go through the houses to bless them.
The faithful who wish to receive the blessing, leave the door of the house open, with flower petals at the entrance and, if they wish, with offers of snacks. The priest rings a bell on the way to warn of the approaching procession. As he passes by, he stops at the doors of the houses with the cross so that it can be kissed by the residents, and makes the house a blessing with holy water.
In Braga, in the North, the image of Our Lady is carried by a donkey, in the Procession of the Burrinha. The city is adorned with flowers, lights, incense, motifs depicting the court and purple bands.
On Good Friday the Procession of the Burial of the Lord takes place, whose protagonists are brotherhoods, knights of the Sovereign Orders of Malta and the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem, Capitulars of the See, various corporations and authorities. Everyone’s head is covered in mourning. This is the most solemn procession, for it carries the little boat of the dead Lord.
Procession of Flowers in the Algarve
In São Brás de Alportel, in the Algarve, Easter Sunday in Portugal is marked by the Hallelujah Procession, in honor of Christ’s resurrection. The men and boys make two parallel rows on the sides of the carpet decorated in the center of the street, and carry torches of colorful flowers in their hands.
Blessing of lambs (sheep) in the Alentejo
In Castelo de Vide, in the Alentejo, in addition to Easter processions in Portugal, the population accompanies the Benção dos Borregos, which takes place on Saturday in Hallelujah. This blessing was formerly used to protect the abundance of cattle breeders, and today it still symbolizes the spirit of coexistence between different peoples and cultures.
Before that event on Hallelujah Saturday, there is the Blessing of the Branches and the Procession of the Lord’s Steps, on Palm Sunday. On Holy Thursday, the Lord’s Supper is celebrated. On Good Friday the Mass of the Lord’s Passion is celebrated, and in the evening the Procession of the Burial of the Lord is done, as in Braga.
Then, another traditional rite is Chocalhada, which occurs at night, when people gather in Lageado with rattles to emit a characteristic noise that serves as a prayer during the Hallelujah Procession.
Butler of the Cross dinner in Minho
In some parishes (municipalities) in the Minho region, such as Viana do Castelo and Ponte de Lima, in addition to the traditional events mentioned above, it is common to have the Butler of the Cross Dinner. It is a banquet for all the people of that parish or neighborhood, where a butler is elected to carry the cross and pay everyone’s lunch.
Burial of Cod in Beiras
The Burial of Bacalhau is a funeral procession full of meaning at Easter in Portugal and of great cultural value. The first time it happened was in 1938, but the religious authorities were not in favor, as it meant a protest.
This tradition goes back to the 16th century, when the church completely banned meat consumption during Lent, except for the more affluent. Thus, the poor only had the option of eating fish, and cod was the most affordable of all.
So this pagan festival was created – which has a comedy tone, like a revolt by the poorest for their impotence before the authority of the church. The procession has three sermons: Life and Death of Cod, Testament of Cod and the Exéquias of Cod, which occur to the sound of Chopin’s funeral symphony.
Typical Easter food in Portugal
The Easter Folar that can be sweet or salty. This is one of the most traditional dishes that represents the typical Easter food in Portugal.
In the Minho:As in practically the entire North, in Minho it is common to end the Lenten fast with meat. Then, in addition to the kid, meat balls and meat leaf are consumed, both made with a dough filled with different meats.
In the Douro: One of the most popular main dishes in this region is the beef tenderloin, called the Easter loin, at this time of year. In addition to this meat, roast kid is very popular.
In the Beiras: In this region, the two most consumed meat dishes on Easter Sunday are roast suckling pig and cod, which occurs after the procession of Enterro do Bacalhau.