Located in the High Estremadura region of central Portugal, Batalha is an attractive town with plenty of excellent shops and restaurants surrounding one of Portugal’s most sacred sites. The Monastery of Santa Maria da Vitória was commissioned by Portugal’s King João I to commemorate the country’s independence from Spain after the Battle of Aljubarrota in 1385.
Some 200 years in its evolution, the Dominican monastery is UNESCO World Heritage-listed as it represents the very pinnacle of Portuguese Gothic and Manueline architecture; its chapter house in particular is an elaborate interweaving of pinnacles, gargoyles and rounded spires over two levels. The fine, lacy façade is studded with intricate stonework that resembles Indian temple carvings, and leads on to a surprisingly unembellished interior, with high Gothic vaulted roof over the nave and stained-glass windows through which sunlight dances on summer days. Around the main body of the church lie several chapels, the stark Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and two tranquil cloisters accessed from a doorway in the north wall in front of the choir.
Batalha monastery became the burial church of the Aviz dynasty Portuguese kings. The Capelo do Fundador to the right of the main entrance is the final resting place of King João I, his wife Queen Philippa of Lancaster and their third son, Prince Henry the Navigator, who expanded Portuguese trade routes into north Africa and died in 1460. A massive equestrian statue of military leader Nuno Álvares Pereira stands guard on the paved piazza outside the monastery; it was he who led his 6,500 troops to victory at Aljubarrota and ended medieval Spanish domination of Portugal.