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A Dominican monastery in Batalha, Portugal

March 19th, 2007 / / Links: Google Earth, Google Maps, Yahoo! Maps, Virtual Earth / Nearest places
 
 

Santa Maria da Vitória na Batalha is a Dominican monastery in the Portuguese town of Batalha, in the Distric of Leiria, Portugal. It is one of the best and original examples of Late Gothic architecture in Portugal, intermingled with the Manueline style. It amazes the onlooker with its profusion of gables, spires, pinnacles and buttresses. It has become a symbol of national pride.

The monastery was built to thank the Virgin Mary for the Portuguese victory over the Castilians in the battle of Aljubarrota in 1385, fulfilling a promise of King D. João I. The battle put an end to the 1383-1385 crisis.

The monastery took two centuries to build, starting in 1386 and ending circa 1517, spanning the reign of seven kings. It took the efforts of fifteen architects (Mestre das Obras da Batalha), but for seven of them the title was no more than a honorary title bestowed on them. The construction required an enormous effort, using extraordinary resources of men and material. New techniques and artistic styles, hitherto unknown in Portugal, were deployed.

Work began in 1386 by the Portuguese architect Afonso Domingues who continued till 1402. He drew up the plan and many of the structures in the church and the cloister are his doing. His style was essentially Rayonnant Gothic, however there are influences from the English Perpendicular Period. There are similarities with the façade of York Minster and with the nave and transept of Canterbury Cathedral.

He was succeeded by Huguet from 1402 to 1438. This architect, who was probably from Catalonian descent, introduced the Flamboyant Gothic style. This is manifest in the main façade, the dome of the square chapter house, the Founder's Chapel, the basic structure of the Imperfect Chapels and the north and east naves of the main cloister. He raised the height of the nave to 32.46 m. By altering the proportions he made the interior of the church even seem narrower. he also completed the transept but he died before he could finish the Imperfect Chapels.

During the reign of Afonso V of Portugal, the Portuguese architect Fernão de Évora continued the construction between 1448 and 1477. He added the Cloister of Afonso V. He was succeeded by the architect Mateus Fernandes the Elder in the period 1480-1515. This master of the Manueline style worked on the portal of the Capelas Imperfeitas. Together with the famous Diogo Boitac he realized the tracery of the arcades in the Claustro Real. Work on the monastery continued into the reign of John III of Portugal with the addition of the fine Renaissance tribune (1532) by João de Castillo. The construction came to a halt, when the king decided to put all his efforts in the construction of the Jerónimos Monastery in Lisbon.

The earthquake of 1755 did some damage, but much greater damage was inflicted by the Napoleonic troops of marshall Masséna, who sacked and burned the complex in 1810 and 1811. When the Dominicans were ousted from the complex in 1834, the church and monastery were abandoned and left to fall in ruins.

In 1840 king Ferdinand II of Portugal started a restoration program of the abandoned monastery in ruins, saving this jewel of Gothic architecture. The restoration would last till the early years of the 20th century. It was declared a national monument in 1907. In 1980 the monastery was turned into a museum.

The Abbey of Batalha was added in 1983 by the UNESCO to its list of World Heritage sites.

The church is vast and narrow (22m) in proportion to its height (32.4 m). The nave was raised to its present height by the second architect Huguet, altering the proportions of the church and giving it its present aspect. Its interior gives a sober and bare impression by its complete lack of ornaments and statues in the nave. The ribbed vaults, supported by compound piers, are closed by ornamented keystones. Light enters the church through ten stained-glass windows of the clerestory and the tall, traceried windows in the side walls and the transept and through the two rows of lanciform windows in the choir. The choir extends into two-bay transepts and consists of five apsidal chapels, with the central one projecting.

Batalha probably had the first workshop for stained-glass windows in Portugal. The art was introduced in Portugal by German artists from the regions of Franconia and Nuremberg. The oldest windows date back to the end of the 1430s. But the Manueline, ogival stained-glass windows in the choir date from the 1520s and 1530s and were produced by Portuguese masters, among them Francisco Henriques. They represent scenes from the lives of Christ and Maria: the Visitation, the Epiphany, the Flight to Egypt annd the Resurrection of Christ.

The architect Mateus Fernandes and his wife are buried under a marble tomb-slab close to the portal. The tomb of the knight Martim Gonçalves de Maçada, who saved the king's life during the battle at Aljubarrota, can be found close to the Capela do Fundador.

[Source: Wikipedia]

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