The Alcobaça game

Alcobaça Composite

It can be hard to visit monuments with little kids, so it is always a good idea to engage them in a game. If you visit Alcobaça, a beautiful abbey in the middle of Portugal, you can ask your kids to go on a treasure hunt. They can look for stones with carved initials and photograph them. This game can turn an otherwise boring visit into a memorable one.

Masons often carved their personal marks on stones placed in the parts of the cathedral where they worked. They did it to show pride in their work but also to claim the work as theirs so they could get paid.

Centuries later, these signatures remind us of the humble people whose hard work created a legacy of enduring beauty.

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Alcobaça

RBD_Alcobaça
Alcobaça, ink on paper, Rui Barreiros Duarte, 2014.

To understand Portugal, you have to visit Alcobaça. It was here that the first king of Portugal, Dom Afonso Henriques, founded a monastery in thanksgiving for his conquests. He laid the first stone in 1148 on a beautiful valley irrigated by two rivers, Alcoa and Baça.

Alcobaça became a center of agricultural research with a vast library that included volumes printed by Gutenberg. The monastery served as a luxury hotel for the royal family and their guests, but it also baked bread to feed the poor. The kitchen of the monastery was famous throughout the kingdom. Water from the river Alcoa runs through the kitchen, providing water for cleaning and cooking.

Built in an early gothic style, the monastery was expanded and renovated throughout the centuries. King Dom Pedro erected sumptuous tombs to celebrate his eternal love for Inês de Castro. Henry the Navigator, who was the abbot of Alcobaça, built a palace inside the abbey. Every stone of the Alcobaça monastery is a page of the history of Portugal.