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Alcobaça is a pleasant town with a jumble of medieval and modern architecture and a largely pedestrianized center, but its main attraction is undoubtedly Portugal’s first monastery, founded here by the country’s first king, Alfonso Henriques, in 1153. Today the magical Cistercian monastery of Santa Maria is UNESCO World Heritage-listed thanks to its peerless Gothic architecture – it was the first public building in Portugal to adopt the Gothic style.

Just to the left of the church doorway, the Hall of Kings is elaborately decorated with azulejo tiles depicting the history of the monastery up until the 18th century plus a cluster of royal statues in various states of repair. The massive Gothic church at the heart of the complex is an ocher-stone fantasia of flying buttresses, ornate roundels, lacy stone carving and statuary topped with two intricate bell towers.

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