The Cathedral Tour (Centre and South)
Inspired by Coimbra’s old Cathedral, the Lisbon Cathedral is probably the best example of romanesque in Portugal. It was ordered built by D. Afonso Henriques and erected over an ancient Al-Ushbuna mosque, so its origins date back to the 13th century. The next century brought with it some important additions, such as the gothic cloister and ambulatory – the only existing ones in Portugal. Its rosaceous main facade, with its colourful stain-glassed windows, is one of the most beautiful and completely faithful to the original structure – as is the entire building which maintains its medieval essence.
Located in the heart of the portuguese capital, only steps away from the Terreiro do Paço.
Santarém, capital of the Ribatejo province, is considered the portuguese capital of gothic, because of the numerous churches, fountains and convents it possesses and that were all constructed according to that style. So, it is ironic that its cathedral be the exception – built by the Society of Jesus during the 17th century, it is a baroque-style construction. Popularly known as the Seminar Church, it was elevated to the status of Cathedral during the 1970s and, although it is not the city’s ex-libris, it is still one of the best examples of jesuit architecture, as it preserves all of its main characteristics. Take advantage of the fact that you’re in Santarém and visit the entire gothic circuit: otherwise, it would be like going to Rome and not seeing the Pope…
Outshined by the magnificence and popularity of the Leiria Castle, the city’s Cathedral looses visibility amongst others, more important and more beautiful. Nonetheless, it is an excellent building with an original gothic construction and some strong renaissance influences. The typical gothic elevation of its nave is contrasted in the exterior by the mathematical and proportional calculations that classic revivalism introduced and which, to some degree, deformed its medieval style. At the same time, however, it gave the temple an interesting form of “modernism”, especially considering the time period in which it was edified – its construction began in the 16th century and was concluded a century later. It is an obligatory stop when getting to know an unjustly forgotten part of Portugal, which is also extremely rich.
Coimbra’s Old Cathedral
Coimbra, a historical city in Portugal’s centre, is privileged enough to have not one, but two grand cathedrals. The Old Cathedral, whose style is profoundly romanesque, has a fabulous spandrel on the main portal. Its fortified appearance completely encloses the temple, which is, of course, one of the main characteristics of this style and which has been unaltered since its construction in the 12th century. Also noteworthy is the gothic-style cloister, the first to be edified on portuguese soil, as well as the lantern-tower over the transept, one of the principal features of this magnificent cathedral. But Coimbra has much more to offer…
Coimbra’s New Cathedral
Built during the 16th century, Coimbra’s New Cathedral sustains a completely different style and is one of the first edifications by the Society of Jesus after its establishment in Portugal. The desire to associate jesuit influence and education was what made Coimbra the perfect place for the foundation of the Jesus College (located very close to the historical university): a demonstration of the beautiful and typical jesuit construction, with a mannerist influenced facade. The inside is composed by one nave, arched, following the traditional latin cross plant.
Two very different cathedrals that express two radically distinct historical and architectonical time periods, and that make visiting Coimbra compulsory.
Of all the suggestions presented in this tour, this is the only cathedral that is not open for worship. It is also the cathedral with the most historical value. Lost amidst the planes of inland Portugal, you’ll find the village of Idanha-a-Velha, once an important centre of civilization, occupied by practically all the different people that came through the peninsula. Idanha-a-Velha housed pre-historic, celtic, roman, suevi, visigoth, arab, and later, Christian towns. Due to its proximity with the border and constant attacks (and destructions) it was progressively abandoned and as a result, today it is a forgotten historical village – but that’s what makes its exploration even more special. Above all, the Idanha-a-Velha Cathedral is worth a visit because of its historical value. It was edified over a paleochristian temple and is the Iberian Peninsula’s first Christian cathedral: it dates back to the 4th century! Due to its constant occupation, the invaders kept transforming the building, being the arab intervention the most profound. Once it was reconquered, the Cathedral’s original configuration of three naves was restored and the fact is that it is a true witness of the region’s evolution over the last 1500 years. Unmissable.
Heading South, we’ve reached Portalegre, a city located deep in Portugal’s inland, which also represents an authentic transition between the Beiras and the Alentejo provinces. Its cathedral dates back to the mid-16th century and also reflects a transition between styles: its structure exhibits manueline and mannerist traces, but the posterior baroque interventions marked it profoundly. Once in Portalegre, be sure to visit its beautiful castle and especially its many manor houses from the 16th-18th century, one of the region’s strongest heritages.
This is Portugal’s largest gothic cathedral and reason enough to spark anyone’s curiosity. At the same time, it maintains its essentially medieval roots, with additions and influences from other styles that did not distort the construction’s original essence. A visit to its cloister and rooftop are also mandatory, where you’ll enjoy a fabulous view of the city of Évora and the Temple of Diana, both of which are classified as World Heritage by UNESCO. Unfortunately, it is also the only portuguese cathedral which has an entrance fee for the nave, despite its consecration. Worse is the fact that its interior chapels are strategically kept in the dark and the only way to get access to temporary illumination is with a “donation”. An attitude that does not befit the superior grandness and incomparable beauty of the Évora Cathedral.
You’ll find another interesting discovery in the capital of Algarve, the Faro Cathedral. It is said that the cathedral was built on a place that had already sheltered a mosque and before that a paleochristian basilica, but no archaeological evidence exists to prove this theory. What we do know is that the construction of this temple began in the mid-13th century with the purpose of becoming the city’s parish church. However, it immediately underwent various modifications and mostly amplifications, so it is safe to say that the cathedral that exists today dates back to the 15th century. Both inside and out, it is possible to identify many gothic features; the main facade’s tower, which constitutes a lovely narthex, is definitely the cathedral’s chief symbol. Deeply affected by the pirate attacks of 1596, it was then rebuilt, according to the reigning styles of the time, mainly baroque and mannerism.
The Sines Cathedral was built during the 13th century and is one of the most beautiful examples of portuguese gothic. Unfortunately, from that time only the portal and apse remain, seeing as the rest of the building collapsed as a result of the 1755 earthquake. The reconstruction that followed did not respect the temple’s original lines, but many strategic interventions during the 20th century were able to eliminate the solutions offered by other styles and restore the cathedral’s original physiognomy. Besides all these interventions, it is still Algarve’s main gothic construction and the authenticity of the apse, that resisted so many disasters, cannot be ignored.