Batalha: The Town Called War

Well, battle, actually. Batalha means battle in Portuguese, but it was a battle that ended a war, and one that would have made the Greeks at Thermopylae proud. In 1385, a force of 6,500 Portuguese soldiers and a few hundred English bowmen took down an army of 30,000 Castilians in the Battle of Aljubarrota. The victory cemented Portugal as an independent state and ushered in a golden age.

It’s possible to visit the battleground, where we are told there are skulls with spear points still embedded in them. But our reason for coming here was the Monestario de Santa Maria da Vitoria.

This imposing monastery was erected to fulfill a prayer bargain struck just before the big battle. King John of Portugal promised to build Mary a fancy monastery if she agreed to help him beat the Castilians. (This habit of asking a divinity to help get us out of a jam goes way back).

Anyway, King John made good on his promise:

The view from the cloister. Photo by T.

The ornamentation is known as Manueline and is particular to Portugal. Whoever carved this stone was able to shape it into the most magnificent and delicate patterns.

It’s the Capelas Imperfeitas (Unfinished Chapels) that really show off this type of stonework. Most of the chapel was completed, but not the roof. There is a fundraising effort underway to help complete it, but we liked how much more dramatic everything looked with an open sky.

The unfinished chapels. That’s the tomb of King Duarte and his wife, who ruled Portugal from 1433 to 1438. The tomb of their child is to the left. Photo by T.
Turn around and be stunned by the 46-foot tall main doorway to the chapels. Photo by T.
Detail from a doorway in the chapel. Photo by T.
Delicate carving in the stone. It’s amazing how intricate it all is. Photo by R.

For all the ornamentation on the exterior, the church itself is quite stark. Still, it’s an imposing view:

Interior of the main church. Photo by T.

Just to the right is a Founder’s Chapel, which houses the tombs of John I and his English wife, Phillipa of Lancaster. This was the marriage that formed the alliance between Portugal and England in 1387 that is still in effect to this day.

Inside the beautiful Founder’s Chapel. John and Phillippa occupy the center and their children’s tombs line the walls. At far left is the tomb of Henry the Navigator. Photo by T.
The ceiling of the Founders’ Chapel was stunning. Photo by T.

This visit was part of our two-day whirlwind excursion with a car. We made a home base out of nearby Leiria and took a car to Tomar, Fátima, Batalha, Alobaça, and Peniche. The rental was easy and inexpensive (only €25 for two days plus the cost of tolls). And the roads were mostly clear.


  1. Wow… stonework, ornamentation, history, and beauty. I think I might be in love …I adore places like this. One day I hope to make a similar trip to what you are now doing. I’m loving your travels.


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