The Unfinished Chapels of Batalha: architecture shocks sky

There’s a monastery in the town of Batalha that looks as it is carved from crystalized honey.  One of my finer life choices was to spend an entire day looking at it.

(Okay, full disclosure, I probably would have crammed in at least one other monastery in our itinerary that day had the bus schedules in this area of central Portugal allowed.  But still, feel free to give me all the credit for good judgement).

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After a pre-dawn bus from Lisbon to Batalha, HOB and I circled the monastery, ate a picnic in front of it, and then went inside.

The Batalha Monastery is high Gothic—constructed from the late 1300’s to the early 1500’s—but its Manueline ornamentation gets all the attention.  While I loved the entirety of the monastery, what got my attention were the Unfinished Chapels.

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The Unfinished Chapels are, um, unfinished.  King Duarte of Portugal began building the chapels as a mausoleum attached to the monastery but then he died of the plague in 1438.  Construction kept going until King Manuel I, who reined from 1495 – 1521, said “Nah, I’m putting my money into the Jerónimos Monastery instead” and abandoned the chapels half-completed.  (King Duarte and his wife are buried here, so perhaps that’s a consolation prize).

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Walking into the exquisite architecture abruptly chopped off and open to the sky was a leap into the one of those shocking temperature changes only the combination of art and nature can deliver.


The extravagant lace-like portals of the chapels must have been influenced by Indian temples seen by Portuguese explorers.


Seriously people, the details: GAH!


Can you even handle the craftsmanship of these decorative thistles?

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There were cheeky carved snails scattered about the chapels.   After visiting the monastery, HOB and I made a quick visit to the town museum, where we saw these 100 million year old snail fossils from the region and I was astonished by the resemblance between the Manueline sculpture and the Cretaceous period fossils.


Even the corners of the chapels’ pillars were decorated with funny little faces.


If you also get a chance to tour the Unfinished Chapels, show some respect and refrain from touching any frying bacon.


We returned to our hotel (which was across from the monastery) for a dinner of local bread, beans and wine.

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Just as we were tucking ourselves into bed I said “What the hell—let’s run out and look at the monastery again” and HOB, because he’s the love of my life, immediately agreed.  We were rewarded by this statue on the monastery’s plaza, framed in moonlight.


And just for us, one more time, the chapels, unfinished and magical.


How we got to Batalha: bus from Lisbon.
Where we slept: Hotel Residencial Batalha. Price: €45 for a double. Recommended: yes.


  1. That is just stunning!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Isn’t it? And I’m not even covering the cloister, church and another chapel with lots of famous people in it—all of it gorgeous.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Moorish architecture was also full of details, so they didn’t have to go off to India to get inspired. But maybe they did bring something back home to stir into the Manueline pot. Those arches look like you need a day to spend on them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The arches have the depth of field like you see in the Alhambra, but there’s something entirely different too.


    1. Can you imagine what it was like for people 500 years ago?

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Very impressive! Somehow I missed this on my bicycle tour (many years ago).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. In a way it would be better to get around this area by bike. I was impressed by Portugal’s public transportation in general, but all the buses ran from Lisbon like a hub and there was no logical way to get to other monasteries, so tantalizingly close…..

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks, WOB. Another fascinating and beautiful post. So glad you captured the night illumination too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m sure someone has figured out a way to see the night sky from inside the chapels…must try to befriend the monastery staff next time 🙂


  5. The thistles and snails are so authentic to nature and fossils, and so affectionately and intricately carved. I wonder if they carry any symbolic weight. If only I could ask an art historian!

    I also wonder how many millennia in heaven one earns, by creating such a stunning convection.

    It was genius to leave out the rooves: i love the sky-framed-by-towers picture. Also what luck, to capture the moonlit equestrian statue. Following your impulses can, sometimes, lead to good things!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I do tend to believe in karma—hoping the artists of the chapels have earned loads of it.

      Following my impulses has indeed lead me to great things, and also to great sleep deprivation!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. OK, if ever I will organise my own sabbath I shall use this chapel on a stormy night.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Some of my relatives are Wiccan so we could make a family night of it!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. One of those places that’s hard to get to, but so worth making a day AND a night of it! Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My favorite travel days are when we just see the one thing and park ourselves in front of it. Such a great way to experience art and architecture without the guilt of trying and failing to see it all.


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