The 7 Wonders Tour
On July 7th, 2007 – 7/7/7 – the world voted and chose the new 7 wonders of mankind. Portugal did the same thing, but on a national scale and elected its own 7 wonders.
With an initial list of almost 800 local monuments, it was narrowed down to 77 nominees and then 21 finalists. The final list – the 7 wonders of Portugal – is composed of monuments that are well known by the portuguese people, but have they all been visited? This tour is a gateway to our country, a quick and specific way to discover the best we have to offer ourselves and the world.
Jerónimos Monastery (Lisbon)
The first wonder presented is a true world renowned mark. A manueline work of art, it is one of Portugal’s main and most famous monuments, which also makes it mandatory in any visit. Located on the beautiful Belém marginal, close to other important centres such as the Belém Palace (President of the Republic’s official residence), the Belém Tower and the Belém Cultural Centre, it has various points of interest: church, gardens, cloisters and the monastic collection. The collection dates back to the beginning of the 16th century, but the 1755 earthquake provoked severe damage to it, which required great reconstruction. Entirely built in manueline style, it is possible to observe all the characteristics that define this exclusive portuguese style: its decoration is deeply based on naval and marine motifs. The church’s entrance includes the famous tombs of two of the most important figures of portuguese history: Vasco da Gama, acclaimed portuguese navigator who discovered the sea-route to India; and Luís de Camões, who is considered the greatest portuguese poet to have ever lived (both from the 16th century). The church also exhibits the tombs of various portuguese kings, including D. Manuel I and D. Sebastião, the unfortunate portuguese king that died during the Alcácer Quibir battle. The beauty of the rest of this collection is difficult to describe in words, especially the magnificent cloister – which also includes, among others, the tomb of the famous poet, Fernando Pessoa. It is no surprise that it is also considered World Heritage, by UNESCO.
- Entrance fee: free for the church; €6,00 for the cloister and interiors
Tower of Belém (Lisbon)
Only a few metres away from the Jerónimos Monastery and located over the Tejo River you’ll find the Tower of Belém, whose status is similar to that of the monastery, but applied to military architecture. Also dating back to the beginning of the 16th century, it was created as part of a group of forts and fortresses that protected the mouth of the Tejo River. The Tower of Belém is the last protection before the Lisbon harbour and, besides its fantastic location; the highlight goes to the architectonic beauty of its construction, which incorporates the most beautiful manueline style characteristics, especially the entrance portal and the exterior decoration. The building in itself, built so as to resemble the bow of a ship, is truly impressive. Initially located in the Tejo River, the advancement of the shore line lead it to land, where it is still accessed by a walkway. It is also classified as World Heritage.
- Entrance fee: €4,00
Pena National Palace (Sintra)
The Pena Palace is one of Portugal’s most intriguing monuments and is located in one of the country’s most mystical places: the Sintra Mountain. The region is filled with legends and stories and the Pena National Palace incorporates all of them in its unique eclectic construction – a mixture of styles and influences, not only architectonic, but also cultural, historical and religious. The origins of this palace date back to the late 15th century, when D. João II ordered the construction of a convent. The 1755 earthquake would leave it in ruins, until the 19th century when D. Fernando, king consort, fell in love with the Sintra Mountain and its ruins, and ordered the construction of the Pena Palace. The multiplicity of colours and styles, together with the building’s location, is the main feature of this wonder of Portugal. Amongst many identifiable styles, the highlight goes to neo-gothic, neo-renaissance, neo-manueline and neo-islamic. The ornamental influences include catholic and pagan motifs, especially the beautiful figure of Triton and the adaptation of a window from the Tomar Convent. In a region that is marked by the abundance of mansions, gardens, estates and palaces – and where mysticism is the common denominator – the Pena National Palace is certainly the “standard bearer” of a Mountain that will conquer your heart.
- Entrance fee: €7,00 to €11,00 (depending on the areas visited, there are a total of 4 routes)
Óbidos Castle (Óbidos)
To talk about the Óbidos Castle without talking about the Village with the same name would be a huge injustice. Nevertheless, it is important to point out that it was the Castle which was considered one of Portugal’s 7 wonders. Although there are no concrete traces of construction from that time, its origin dates back to the era of the roman occupation. During the reconquest, D. Afonso Henriques won back Óbidos from the muslims, who were responsible for its fortification, and it rapidly became an important strategic military centre. The castle has been documented since that time, so it seems that the muslims were most probably responsible for its construction but, it was during the reign of D. Dinis, at the turn of the 13th century, that Óbidos was largely expanded, with the consequent restoration and amplification of its infrastructures, including its donjon. If the castle is a wonderful example of medieval military architecture, the village of Óbidos is equally fascinating and considered by many as one of Portugal’s most beautiful fortifications. It is also the stage of many typical and thematic fairs – especially the Chocolate Fair, conveniently organized around Valentine’s Day. A typical place in Portugal’s inland that you must visit!
Alcobaça Monastery (Alcobaça)
The story of Pedro and Inês is one of the most lovely and tragic stories of Portugal’s past and visiting the Alcobaça Monastery is revisiting this legend, that is worthy of Shakespeare’s pen – a place where you’ll find the beautiful tombs of this King and Queen, unmatched in the entire world, thanks to its detail and elaboration. Besides the 18th century baroque additions on the facade, the
Santa Maria de Alcobaça Monastery was founded in the mid-12th century and it is the first entirely gothic work to be built on portuguese soil. One of the most important cistercian monasteries, its purpose was to be the first royal pantheon and today it still holds the tombs of various Kings, Queens and Princes. The church’s nave is astonishing and its ample spaces incorporate the genuine gothic tradition. The D. Dinis and Afonso VI cloisters, as well as the manueline sacristy should not be missed. One of Portugal’s most unique patrimony it is considered, besides one of the country’s 7 wonders, World Heritage.
- Entrance fee: free for the church; €4,00 for the cloister and interiors
Batalha Monastery (Batalha)
Not very far from Alcobaça, the Batalha Monastery is also a very important mark in portuguese religious architecture – an unparalleled work in Portugal, it is often considered the country’s best gothic construction. It began being built in 1388 and was the result of a promise made by King D. João I to the Master of Avis: the monastery would be built if the portuguese won the Aljubarrota Battle against the castilian army. Victory was achieved and ended the crisis which had placed Portugal’s independence at stake: and that is how the Santa Maria da Vitória Monastery was born. It is one of the rare examples of flamboyant gothic on portuguese soil and is complemented by many additional areas, each one with its own points of interest. Of all of those, three deserve to be highlighted: the chapter house, the founder’s chapel and the unfinished chapels. The Chapter House is the result of noteworthy art and skill, with a rare and impressive star vault; here you’ll find the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The Founder’s Chapel is equally stunning: built to be a royal pantheon, it possesses various royal tombs; and legend has it that the structures boldness was such that the men who worked on it doubted its safety: the architect, who was confident of his own capacities, had to prove the structure’s stability by spending a night in the room! And of course he was right! 600 years later, it is still standing strong! Finally, the Unfinished Chapels, one of the Batalha Monastery’s most famous areas: its construction was ordered by D. Duarte and its purpose was to be his own tomb space (and consequently a second pantheon). However, the king’s death and almost immediately afterwards, the architect’s death, suspended the construction, which left the vault unfinished. This detail, together with the grandness of the entire building, was what gave the D. Dinis Pantheon the name “Unfinished Chapels”, making it one of the Batalha Monastery’s main attractions as well. Just like many of the other 7 wonders, this one is also classified as World Heritage.
- Entrance fee: €5,00
Guimarães Castle (Guimarães)
And we finish where it all started. After the Christian reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula from the muslim people, Portugal started out as a county. But it was thanks to the strength and courage of D. Afonso Henriques that Portugal gained its independence from the spanish reigns and he became the first king and founder of this country. And it was in Guimarães that he built his first fort, more specifically in this Castle. Therefore, its value is vastly symbolic, but you’ll be wrong if you think it has no material value! Very close to the city’s historical centre – which is classified as World Heritage – and next to the Paço dos Duques de Bragança (an impressive 15th century palace, cradle of the Casa de Bragança, which would govern Portugal from the 17th to the 20th century, and who also originated the independence of Brazil). Relatively to the castle, it is a magnificent 10th century model, whose origins go back to a fort that was built to protect the Sta. Maria de Guimarães Monastery. During the reconquest, it was the place chosen by Count D. Henrique (Afonso Henriques’ father) to set up court. Many alterations and improvements were made and, during the 12th century, the donjon was constructed and still stands tall today in the castle’s interior. This castle, which once came very close to ruin, was profoundly restored during the first half of the 20th century – and that only happened after it was considered the only first class monument in the entire Minho region!
- Entrance fee: free for the castle, €1,50 for the donjon.