World Heritage #0505 – Monastery of Alcobaça

Last modified 30.10.2022 | Published 05.07.2013Portugal, Southern Europe, World Heritage Sites

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The Monastery of Alcobaça is one more of Portugal’s fine examples of beautiful architecture and fine masonry.

The UNESCO World Heritage List includes several hundred properties with outstanding universal value. They are all part of the world’s cultural and natural heritage.

Official facts

  • Country: Portugal
  • Date of Inscription: 1989
  • Category: Cultural site

UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre’s description of site no. 505:

“The Monastery of Santa Maria d’Alcobaça, north of Lisbon, was founded in the 12th century by King Alfonso I. Its size, the purity of its architectural style, the beauty of the materials (…) make this a masterpiece of Cistercian Gothic art.


The founding of the Monastery of Alcobaça, in central Portugal, was at the beginning of the Portuguese monarchy. King Alfonso I based his political reconquest on the Crusaders and on religious orders. He gave Alcobaça to the Cistercians in recognition of their support to the conquest of Santarem (1152) and with the understanding that they would colonise and work the surrounding lands.

My visit

I visited Alcobaça in 2013. This is an excerpt from my blog entry:

We found a parking lot in the city centre and set about looking for the reason of our visit, the World Heritage Site called Mosteiro de Santa Maria de Alcobaça. Once you find it, there is no doubt which building it is.

This church and monastery combination has a 200 metre long façade to a huge square, a few houses and a hill. The design is to awe-inspire the visitor. The trick worked on us.

What we now see dates back to a construction period between 1158-1252. The church and monastery were among the first Gothic buildings in Portugal and like so many other Gothic cathedrals in Europe, it was by default a site to include on UNESCO’s prestigious list. Surely, it is a very nice place. The church has huge pillars, lofty vaults and is very “clean” in the sense that there is no extravagant artwork inside the large nave. This is the Gothic ideal, and certainly that of the Cistercian order. The impression of monumentality is strong inside the church as well as outside. The church of Alcobaça has for 800 years also been the largest in Portugal.

The exterior and the rest of this building complex is somewhat different. Here we find amazing masonry in the two-storey arcades and galleries surrounding the lovely and tranquil cloister garden.

Read more about my visit.

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