Chapter Nine: Magical, Mystical MonserrateJanuary 14, 2023
Chapter Eleven: Traversing Templar TomarJanuary 27, 2023
Chapter Ten – Two UNESCO World Heritage Sites On The Way To Tomar
Day Ten – Two Towers Are Better Than One, Where Did All The Royals Go?, Going Batty In The Biblioteca, We’re On The Road To Nowhere, Getting A Food Complex, That’s The Ticket, Marvelous Monastery, A “Key” Development, Altarpiece Like No Other, Time For Tomar and Hardest Working Servers In Portugal
Waking up a few times during the night, I realized one important fact: I should limit my late night port sipping to only one glass, although the dreams were pretty darned crazy. Today would be an exciting one because we would punch our faux UNESCO World Heritage Sites card twice on our way to Tomar.
Located a mere 30 minutes north of Sintra, the Mosteiro Pálacio Nacional de Mafra looms large over the town. It had to be large to accommodate the 1,200 rooms, 156 staircases along with 5,000 doors and windows. To accomplish the task, in 1717, 50,000 men, on the order of King João V, started construction on the palace to mark the birth of his first child and heir, the once and future King José I.
About 30 rooms are available to tour today along with its beautiful basilica. After all that work to get it built, it turns out that João V and the queen didn’t spend much time here. They basically used it for royal family members who enjoyed hunting. King João VI did live here for a bit, but bolted the castle and headed for Brazil in 1808 to escape oncoming French troops in the Napoleonic Wars. I don’t know what moving company they hired, but they were able to get most of the furniture and valuables out of the palace, leaving it the way it is today. What the family didn’t take were looted by Napoleon’s troops.
One interesting story we read was about the twin bell towers that house the “Carrilhões de Mafra (Carrillons of Mafra).” When told that one bell tower would be too expensive, the king basically replied, “Well, I’ll build two instead.” His favorite song must have been Peggy Lee’s, “Hey Big Spender.” And cheap they weren’t, “built by two of the most important foundrymen of that time … the carillons [were] transported from Rotterdam to Lisbon in specially prepared ships….” It turned out that these are the “largest surviving 18th century carillons in the world,” with 119 bells that can be heard over 9 miles away. After being silenced for many years, they were recently restored and in 2020 began ringing again with concerts on Sundays at 2 p.m.
You can listen here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A6q47L9e4aQ
Stepping inside, one of the first things we saw was a sculpture entitled the Saint Martyrs of Morocco, depicting the terrible scene from 1219 when six Franciscan friars were decapitated in the country where they had been sent to preach. News of the martyrdom eventually made St. Anthony “change [the name of the Order] from the Saint Augustin Order into the Franciscans.” There, of course, were reliquaries nearby.
Here’s a sampling of a few of the 30 or so rooms: The Infirmary is where the injured and ill were taken care of in the cubicles along the walls of this fairly large hall. On Sundays, the beds were put in the center so they could listen to mass from the chapel at the far end of the room.
Since they also had to eat, the kitchen was nearby.
The Hall of Diana (the “Goddess of the Hunt”) displays a plethora of satyrs and nymphs on the ceiling, along with Diana.
Not surprisingly since there are a couple of thrones, we entered the Throne Room, where audiences with the king were held. Frescoes on the wall detail the “Royal Virtues,” and the ornate ceiling is pretty spectacular.
I guess it was fate to enter The Hall of Destiny, where a ceiling (of course) captivated Tracy, who is always looking up. There are lots of ancient kings painted on the ceiling, including Portugal’s first king, Alfonso Henriques, holding the Book of Destiny (which probably foretold the Chargers epic collapse against the Jaguars).
Since there was a painting of King João VI (hard to keep your King Joãos straight) we correctly surmised this was the King’s Bedroom.
I call this “The Guys On Horses Room.” I’m sure it made for a stable environment.
A Grand Piano sings out in a room of yellow, aptly called The Music Room.
It was all fun and games here.
As stated, some of the royals loved to hunt, thus The Hunting and Trophy Room.
The star of Mafra Palace is undoubtedly the Library. It holds a priceless collection of about 40,000 books, or the amount of books Tracy reads in a month. There is also a collection of musical “scores written expressly for [the six organs located in the Royal Basilica] which can only be played [t]here.”
This is one library where you are not allowed to check out books while checking them out. To keep insects from devouring this treasure trove of literature, we were told at night the windows of the library are opened to let the bats inside eat the insects. So instead of “bats in the belfry,” you have “bats in the biblioteca.” It’s just another chapter of interesting facts we learn while traveling.
Counting our blessings as we neared the end of our self-guided tour as we headed for The Blessing Room, utilizing the gallery that connects the two towers. Theroyals would watch services here and bestow their blessings upon the congregation.
From the Blessing Room there is quite a view of the Basilica of Our Lady and St. Anthony of Mafra, which was consecrated in 1730.
They were made by members of the Mafra School of Sculpture under the guidance of Italian master Alessandro Giusti.
Kim and Tracy didn’t even have to get down on the floor to take these …
It was a great way to finish our morning, but we were only half way through “Palace and Monastery UNESCO Day.”
It did not take long to encounter our first destination error. I thought since Óbidos was pretty much on the way to Mosteiro de Santa Maria de Alcobaça, we might as well take a little time to check out this supposedly very cute town. I set the GPS for Praça de Santa Maria, the square where we could see a few of the town’s sights. Exiting the main highway, in under two minutes found ourselves circumnavigating (this whole Portugal explorer thing had me using many nautical terms) Óbidos, but not actually getting there. The next thing we knew we were on a bumpy dirt road headed to the middle of nowhere and nowhere to turn around. Finally, we found a spot in the road to reverse, as did the car behind us who must have had the same GPS misinformation. A little while later we found the main road and waved goodbye to Óbidos, the town never to be found.
First, however, we needed to eat. I had been told to dine at Fiore de Zucca, located only about a block or two away from the monastery. It was pizza time, and the pizza was great. Kim and Mary downed a good-sized Quattro Formaggi Pizza, while Tracy and I enjoyed our delicious Arugula and Prosciutto pizza with Sicilian Lemon Zest. I had ordered the bruschetta to start and for about the fifth time so far on this trip the restaurant was didn’t have what I ordered, I was now getting a complex.
Powered by pizza, we hopped back across the street to a monastery founded in the 12th century by King Alfonso I. We bought the combo Unesco Heritage Monument ticket for Mosteiro de Alcobaça, Convento de Cristo and Mosteiro da Batalha (€7.50 for old geezers (proof of age for discount) and €15 for Tracy the Younger). We would visit the other Unesco sites over the course of the next couple of days.
We also learned that for €2, we could get a tour of the Manueline Sacristy and Reliquary Chapel at 3 p.m. Alcobaça was the last abbey founded during the lifetime of St. Bernard, and the first complete Gothic building in Portugal. It looks virtually the same as it did 800 – 900 years ago, although no one is around from that time to verify it. First, we strolled through the large Gothic cloisters.
The next stop was The Refectory, consisting of three naves and some cool columns.
The monks could have meals here and listen to someone reading scripture from the pulpit in The Refectory
If you have to have meals, you have to have a Kitchen, conveniently located adjacent to the Refectory. There’s a large chimney (about 55 feet tall) with tiles. Back in the day, the monks could cook a half dozen oxen at once in the humongous fireplace. It is said “novelist William Beckford described it as the ‘most distinguished temple of gluttony in all Europe’ when he visited in 1794.” Now, that is food for thought.
The Chapter House is where the monks would congregate to chat about what was going on at the monastery. It also houses a number of Baroque statues.
We entered the transept of the church where the tombs of King Pedro I and his mistress, the noblewoman Inés de Castro, are located facing one another. Although married, Pedro (the Crown Prince of Portugal) fell head over boots with one of his wife’s ladies in waiting, Inés, which not only displeased his wife but also his dad, King Alfonso IV. It ticked him off so much that King Alfonso had Inés decapitated in front of her own children.
Pedro did not like that one bit, and although revenge against his father would not have been a good idea for the monarchy (note to “Spare” Harry), when Alfonso kicked the bucket, Pedro had Inés disinterred and laid too rest in the monastery near where he would eventually be buried in 1367. He had said they were secretly married before she was killed, which I guess makes Inés the first posthumous queen of Portugal.
The tomb includes incredible detail, with scenes from the Last Judgment with angels holding her up.
The tombs each include the inscription “Até ao fim do mundo” (“Until the end of the world”). There are a numerous sordid legends surrounding this entire affair, including Pedro having the hearts ripped out of the two guys who killed Inés. You might want to check these stories out for your own morbid entertainment.
Like the rest of the building, the church is enormous, with pillars seemingly reaching to the sky.
It was getting near to 3 p.m., but we ducked into the Royal Pantheon, added at the end of the 18th century, and which is “the earliest neo-Gothic building in Portugal to house to tombs of the Portuguese monarchy.” The tomb on the left is Queen Urraca, who died in 1220. The relief of the queen is on top with the apostles sculpted on the side.
Also noteworthy are the azulejo friezes.
The tiles tell tales of the monastery’s construction.
At one minute to three we arrived at the entrance to the Manueline Sacristy and Reliquary Chapel, the only portion of the monastery to survive the 1755 earthquake. Only one other couple joined us, so this would be a rather private tour, but we needed to get in first. Our affable guide asked Mary to do the honors and try as she might that darned key would just not open the door, much to chuckles from our guide and the peanut gallery … “None shall pass”
Lo and behold however, our guide also had difficulties with the stubborn door, but finally after a couple of minutes we entered.
A long rectangular space, the New Sacristy was just the prelim to a pretty remarkable room.
Gilded carvings surrounded us, which was given light by the skylight in the domed ceiling.
Most of the reliquaries have just heads and torsos, with seven of the sculptures “full-figured,” highlighted by the Virgin Mary in the center. For some reason the final photo reminded me of a religious version of Hollywood Squares. Paul Lynde and Charlie Weaver were nowhere to be found. This is one of the cooler sights we have seen on vacation. They only conduct these tours Monday through Friday at 11a.m., noon. 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. Our guide took our photo, so now there were 11 full-figured bodies in the room.
It had been quite a day of sight-seeing, but it was now time to head a little less than an hour’s drive to Tomar, where we would spend a couple of nights. Our hotel, Thomar Boutique Hotel, was a great choice … terrific staff, comfortable (and quiet) room and a good breakfast. It had a rooftop where you could sip the libation of your choice, but unfortunately it was very hot and windy on the first day, so we passed.
We had 8 p.m. reservations at the highly recommended Restaurante Beira Rio, where we were served a wonderful meal by one of the hardest working restaurant staffs I’ve ever seen. One of our servers had previously worked at Quinta do Pego in the Douro Valley, so we picked his brain about the hotel since we would be staying there the following week. Fortunately, he only had good things to say about it.
Mary went for the grilled lamb chops, while Kim had the Nero risotto, which does not include any fiddling. It is actually black rice with scallops and prawns.
Still full from her afternoon pizza, Tracy ordered mixed greens (the salads in Portugal are amazing!). Including wine, bread with olives and garlic butter, the entire bill came to €87. With the euro now hovering at 97 cents U.S., dining in Portugal was the bargain of the century. Glasses of wine that would cost a disgusting $16 and up in the U.S, could be purchased in Portugal for an average of about €5, and the pours were twice as large than those at home. It’s been hard to dine out after returning to the states.
Exhausted by our long day, we dropped into bed, knowing tomorrow we’d scope out what Tomar has to offer. It would start with an upward climb to see another UNESCO site, Convento de Cristo/Mosteiro de Cristo, which was at one time a 12th century Templar stronghold. We’d get there early, hopefully in time to beat the dreaded tour bus crowd. Then, after lunch, we would meander through the streets of Tomar, grab lunch and visit a museum that could not be said is “match”-less.
Next – Chapter Eleven:
Day Eleven: Hanging With The Templars, Traversing Tomar, Enjoying The Gardens, Weeping Water Wheel, The Match Game, Danger Of Death, Checking Out Tomar’s Heritage, My New Girlfriend and Bohemian Rhapsody