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).
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.
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).
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?
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.
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.