In 2012 I retired again and we are traveling in Europe. In 2009 Ron and I retired and we volunteered at Quaker Meeting House in Wellington, New Zealand for a year.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Outside Lisbon - Leiria

Leiria - River Lis and castle
On April 13 we took the train north from Lisbon to the town of Leiria, where we stayed four days.  The river Lis runs through the town and our hotel was on the bank of the river with a great view of the town’s landmark castle on the hill above.  The town has created a nice park and walkway along the river on both sides, which was very pleasant to stroll along.  There is also a large park where the main road crosses the river, and then a smaller pedestrian square with lots of restaurants and cafes.   Much of the town under the castle's bluff is quite old with narrow streets, but there were also wider thoroughfares and modern stores.  And of course, a large modern town (about 50,000) spreads out from the medieval core, which we only saw entering and leaving. 
Castle porch
With help from the guidebook, we found a contemporary restaurant which had a choice of 4 vegetarian entrees, so we ate there twice.  I have also found that most Portuguese restaurants have one or more vegetable soups that make a pretty good meal.

We walked up to the castle which is now a partially reconstructed ruin.  It was a Moorish stronghold (and perhaps Roman before that) until reconquered in 1135 by Afonso Henriques, who became the first Christian King of Portugal.  The walls and the castle keep date from around this time or the next century.  In the late 15th century King João I built a small palace within the walls and restored the church. The palace has a wonderful porch gallery overlooking the city, and a couple of other restored rooms of comfortable proportion.  The church is an elegant ruin, and the keep and battlements at the top of the hill are impressive. 
At dinner that evening, on one of the squares, we got to observe one of those quaint native festivals you read about.  This was a parade to drum up support for the local soccer team playing that evening.  First honking cars drove around and then people marched through the various squares wearing their soccer scarves, drinking, waving banners, singing songs, and blowing horns and whistles.
Old Leiria

Leiria also has a recently built Museum of the Moving Image.  It had everything from flip books and stereoscopes to early movie cameras, with a number of good interactive models.  We most enjoyed a photo exhibit of old Leiria from the turn of the last century to mid-20th century. 
Stairway to Church
Another hill above the river is dominated by a church, the Sanctuary of our Lady of the Conception, with an impressive staircase leading straight up the hill, so we had the energy to climb up there also and check out that view.  The church itself was not open.
Batalha Monastery

Leiria was our base for day trips to two World Heritage Sites.  The first was to Batalha Monastery, built to thank the Virgin Mary for her help in bringing victory at the nearby battle of Aljubarrota in 1385.  The church started off as classic Gothic with English Perpendicular influences, but later Manueline decorations were added to doors and cloisters.
Church nave
It was good to see it right after being at the Jerónimos cloisters in Belem.  The mix of styles was quite enjoyable.  There is a Founders Chapel with tombs of many kings, starting with Joao I and his wife Philippa of Lancaster from the early 15th century.  They have a joint tomb and their effigies are holding hands.  There is a very nice cloister.  Originally plain Gothic, typically elaborate decorative Manueline stone tracery was added to the arches.  In fact, this is the first building in which this work appears, and the architect then went on to build the Jeronimos Monastery.
The decoration really takes off in the doorway carvings of what are called the Imperfect (or Unfinished) Chapels.  Some more kings are buried here in chapels around a central octagonal courtyard, but they ran out of funds for completing the vault, so the courtyard is open to the elements.  King Duarte and Queen Eleanor of Aragon have a joint tomb there where they are also depicted holding hands.  Duarte (Edward in English) was the son of Joao and Philippa mentioned earlier.

Unfinished Chapel

King Duarte and Queen Eleanor

King Joao and Queen Philippa

Alcobaca Monastery
 The second day trip was to the Alcobaça Monastery.
Alcobaca Church nave
Although the name sounds Moorish, it is because it is built where the Alco and Baça rivers meet.  This is another huge tall Gothic church, but it is older than Batalha, built starting 1178.  The big draw for this church are the tombs of King Pedro I and his love Inȇs de Castro, a lady-in-waiting to his wife.  After the wife died, he lived in secret with Inȇs, and they had several children.  Later he claimed that they were secretly married.
King Pedro
Pedro’s father Afonso IV ordered Inȇs assassination because he feared the influence of her Spanish family.  Later, when Pedro became King, he declared Inȇs to be his Queen.  The tombs are placed in the two transepts of the church, so that when they raise up on the Day of Judgment, the first thing they see will be each other.
Ines de Castro
Their statues on their tombs depict themselves supported by angels ready to assist them to sit up.  It led me to wonder how their actual bodies are going to be able to move the heavy stone lids aside on that Day.  I guess angels will help with that too.  The tombs have wonderfully elaborate bas-relief carvings on all sides. 

Detail Pedro's tomb
Detail Ines 's tomb

Hall of Kings
Adjoining the church is the Kings Hall with ceramic statues of Portuguese kings on pedestals above tile work depicting the founding of the Monastery.  Apparently the monks here were renowned for their ability to make life size statues out of clay.  All the monastic rooms are well preserved and full of Gothic arches.
The kitchen is entirely lined with tile, including the ceiling, and has another one of those huge chimneys.  Water from the rivers were diverted into the kitchen (and other parts) for cooking and cleaning.  There was even a large basin to capture any fish that might flow through.  The refectory had a special narrow side door that was sometimes used to test monks thought to be becoming too corpulent.
Dining room door
If they couldn’t pass through the door, they couldn’t have supper!

Cloister detail
I will post soon about the last two towns in Portugal!

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