World Heritage Site
Alcobaça is situated in the valley of the Alcoa and Baça rivers and is famous for the monastery of Santa Maria de Alcobaça, which was founded in 1178 by the Cistercian order of monks after the first king of Portugal, Afonso Henriques, drove the Moors out of the nearby town of Santarem in 1147.
Today, the Monastery of Alcobaça is one of the most magnificent Gothic monuments in Portugal and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It also houses the tombs of the 14th century King Pedro and his murdered mistress Ines de Castro, whose doomed love story is legendary in Portuguese history.
Also worth a visit is the grand kitchen, described by 18th century traveller William Beckford as ‘the most distinguished temple of gluttony in all Europe’. It is 18m (60ft) high, with a huge open fire place and a fish tank, with a running stream specially diverted to pass through, as a supply of fresh water. The open area of the kitchen chimney is large enough to take a whole ox for roasting.
Entrance to the kitchens are free on Sundays and Bank Holidays. However it is very reasonably priced to gain access at all other times.
Through the generations, the Cistercian monks from this monastery were responsible for developing many ground-breaking techniques in agriculture, with the result that even today this area is still renowned for its production of apples and other soft fruits.
The monks also spread education, being the first to give public lessons to their flock (in 1269) and later producing the authoritative history of Portugal in book form. In 1810 the invading French armies of the Peninsular Wars pillaged the monastery, leaving little of value.