Wandering Through History

Trip Start Aug 06, 2011
Trip End Oct 06, 2013

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Flag of Portugal  , Estremadura,
Wednesday, January 30, 2013

As we get closer to Lisbon we racked up five highlight stops in just a couple of days. The first was in Batalha where we stopped to view the intricate architecture and beautiful stained-glass windows of UNESCO World Heritage-listed Batalha Monastery- a Gothic masterpiece. The convent was built to thank the Virgin Mary for the Portuguese victory over the Castilians in the battle of Aljubarrota. It served as the burial church of the 15th-Century Aviz dynasty of Portuguese royals and is still celebrated for its royal cloisters to this day- in the 14th century this was the most luxurious and grandest monastery in all of Portugal and it doesn't take much imagination to picture the pomp and circumstance that took place here in years gone by. It took over a century to build, starting in 1386 and spanning the reign of seven kings. It took the efforts of fifteen architects and the construction required new techniques and artistic styles, previously unknown in Portugal.

We had dinner in Batalha which in Portugal has meant another round of Bacalhau or salted cod (lunch tends to be helpings of the world’s biggest sardines so we’re definitely overdoing the fish thing). Bacalhau dishes are common in Portugal and there are said to be over 1000 distinct recipes.- it’s starting to feel like we’ve tried most of them.

Heading out from Batalha we ran into one of those good news/bad news things. The good news: our remaining destinations were all connected by a relatively new highway infrastructure- the bad news: our overworked GPS unit obviously wasn’t told about these new roads and I’m sure I saw a little bit of smoke coming out of the back. Now I was being subjected to a steady voice stream of that mechanical "recalculating", and that was coming from DH as she was drafted into service as a Portuguese navigator and started wrestling with a map. She won’t make the world forget about Vasco da Gama (note to Deb P- Vasco was a very famous Portuguese navigator- nothing to do with Japan so you’ve probably never heard of him but it does add some humour to this sentence), but we did eventually end up in Fatima (we were actually heading for Tomar but we would have wanted to see Fatima anyway).  Fatima is the Portuguese version of Lourdes (note to Deb P- Lourdes is a town in France that is a pilgrimage site for believers seeking miracles- again, nothing to do with Japan and adds context but no humour to this sentence). In 1917 three shepherd children reported apparitions of the Virgin Mary, also known as Our Lady of Fatima.  The Blessed Virgin told them that She had been sent by God with a message for every living man, woman and child. Coming at a time when much of Europe was in the midst of war, She promised that Heaven would grant peace to all the world if Her requests for prayer, reparation and consecration were heard and obeyed (DH said pretty much the same thing to me when I was getting frustrated with her map reading skills). Apparently these visions were verified by a number of other delusional townsfolk (is my disbelief showing- too many news stories about a toasted cheese sandwich containing the image of Jesus being auctioned on eBay??)

The Sanctuary of Fatima is a basilica that honors the apparition and attracts millions of Catholic pilgrims every year who go to pay their respects to the shrine. DH started getting sympathy knee pains as we watched a number of believers crawl on hands and knees down the very long pathway leading to the basilica. Ouch! She wobbled over to light her own candles and pray for miracles (but alas, new maps were not magically downloaded to our outdated GPS unit).

Tomar took us back into old Portugal. The town's skyline is dominated by the Knight Templar castle and today revels in the history surrounding this most secretive of religious warrior orders. These guys are either heroes or villains depending on who is doing the writing, but there’s no arguing the mystery and intrigue that surround the Templars. The original medieval town of Tomar was born inside the walls of the historic castle, commissioned by Gualdim de Pais, the fourth master of the Knights Templar. However it was not long before the growing population meant the town spilled outside of the castle to the shores of the River Nabao, which cuts the modern day town in two.

Officially endorsed by the Catholic Church around 1129, the Knights Templar became a favoured charity throughout the Christian world and grew rapidly in membership and power. Templar knights, in their distinctive white mantles with a red cross, were among the most skilled fighting units of the Crusades. Non-combatant members of the Order managed a large infrastructure throughout Europe, including an early form of banking, and building fortifications. The Templars' existence was tied closely to the Crusades and when the Holy Land was lost, support for the Order faded. Rumours about the Templars' secret initiation ceremony created mistrust and Pope Clement V disbanded the Order in 1312. The abrupt disappearance of a major part of the European infrastructure gave rise to speculation and legends, which have kept the "Templar" name alive (including stories of the Holy Grail and a couple of Tom Hanks movies).

To get to our next stop, Nazrere, we had to drive a relatively straight line and stop when we hit the water- with her navigational confidence slightly shaken, DH maintained a focused vigil so as to not miss the Atlantic Ocean, and in short order we were parking in front of a sandy beach. Nazrere bills itself as a traditional fishing village but it seems to be more of a beach holiday location with the catch-of-the-day being Euros straight out of the touristo’s pockets (note to Deb P- Euros are the  currency used in Portugal now- lots of humour in this sentence). We picked up the requisite ice cream cones and headed out to the end of the bordering cliff. Just last week, the biggest wave ever recorded in the world (per the Guinness Book Of Records) rolled by this cliff and there must have been a hundred people with high powered cameras waiting for an even bigger one (not sure there were any Coimbra University grads among the crowd as an even bigger wave might just sweep them all out to sea).

Next up was Alcobaca and the Monastery of Santa Maria d'Alcobaça, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the biggest Gothic-style church in Portugal. This was once one of the richest and most prestigious monasteries in Europe, dating from 1178. The highlight of this visit was probably the latte we sipped at a café across the square while lounging under the watchful gaze of this grand piece of history.
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CarolC on

Well it looks like it didnt matter if the GPS was working or not! Amazing buildings, the architecture is stunning!

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