Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (Belém; tel. 21/362-00-34; www.mosteirojeronimos.pt): More than any other ecclesiastical building in Portugal, this complex represents the wealth that poured into Lisbon from the colonies during the Age of Discovery. Begun in 1502 in Belém, the seaport near the gates of Lisbon, it's the world's most distinctive Manueline church. Richly ornate and unlike any other building in Europe, it has, among other features, columns carved in patterns inspired by the rigging of Portuguese caravels laden with riches from Brazil and India.
Palácio Nacional de Mafra (Mafra; tel. 26/181-75-50; www.ippar.pt): This convent was originally intended to house only about a dozen monks, but after the king of Portugal was blessed with an heir, he became obsessed with its architecture and vastly augmented its scale. Construction began in 1717, and funding came from gold imported from Portuguese settlements in Brazil. Some 50,000 laborers toiled more than 13 years to complete the convent. Today the buildings alone cover 4 hectares (9 acres) and include a royal palace as well as accommodations for 300 monks. A park whose outer wall measures 19km (12 miles) surrounds the complex.
Mosteiro de Santa Maria (Alcobaça; tel. 26/250-51-20): More closely associated with the Portuguese wars against the Moors than almost any other site in Iberia, this monastery was a gift from the first Portuguese king (Afonso Henríques) to the Cistercians in 1153. As part of one of the most dramatic land-improvement projects in Portuguese history, a community of ascetic monks cleared the surrounding forests, planted crops, dug irrigation ditches, and built a soaring church (completed in 1253) that critics cite as one of the purest and most artfully simple in Europe.
Mosteiro de Santa Maria da Vitória (Batalha; tel. 24/476-54-97): In 1385, the Castilian Spaniards and the Portuguese, led by a youth who had been crowned king only a week before, fought one of the most crucial battles in Iberian history. The outcome ensured Portugal's independence for another 200 years. It was celebrated with the construction of the monastery at Batalha, whose style is a triumph of the Manueline and Flamboyant Gothic styles.
Convento da Ordem de Cristo (Tomar; tel. 24/931-34-81; www.ippar.pt/monumentos/conjunto_cristo.html): Built in 1160 along the most hotly contested Muslim-Christian border in Iberia, this convent was originally intended as a monastic fortress. Successive building programs lasted half a millennium, ultimately creating a museum of diverse architectural styles. Some of the interior windows, adorned with stone carvings of ropes, coral, frigate masts, seaweed, cables, and cork trees, are the most splendid examples of Manueline decoration in the world.
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