Sunday, April 10, 2011

Batalha, Fatima, Nazare & Obidos: Travels around Portugal

I'm wrapping up with final views of sites from my trip to Portugal. It doesn't feel like several weeks have already passed. In many ways, the trip has been memorable and will stay with me for years. On the last day, I got to do an eight-hour driving tour to several sites. First stop, Batalha in central Portugal, was built to commemorate Portugal's rout of superior Spanish forces during the medieval period.  Fatima is a place of devout pilgrimage for Christians. Nazare is a picturesque village on the Atlantic coast and boasts some of the best, freshly-baked Portuguese rolls I have ever tasted. Finally, Obidos is another medieval site, boasting towering ramparts and some of the sweetest ginga I have ever tasted ( don't tell my doctor!). Our guide, Pascoal (incidentally, easy on the eyes but unfortunately, married) picked us up early for a fun-filled fascinating day, through the hills, valleys and coasts of Portugal.

Batalha Monastery
Batalha Monastery
In 1383, Portugal faced a deepening crisis. King Ferdinand I had died after losing two sons in 1380 and 1382. He left in his stead his 10-year old daughter, Beatriz, who had married King Juan I of Castile only five months before. On his wife's behalf, King Juan pressed her claim to rule Portugal. The country's aristocracy feared it would be absorbed as part of the Spanish Crown. Beatriz's illegitimate uncle, Joao who was then the Grand Master of the Military Order of Aviz became King of April 1385. Castile invaded Portugal, with the support of his allies from Aragon, Italy and France. King Joao prepared to meet his enemy with the support of the English, whose help was secured by Joao's marriage to Philippa of Lancaster. The alliance of 1373 between Portugal and England has been cited throughout the subsequent six centuries by both sides.   

Nuno Alvares Pereira
The command of Portugal's forces belonged to Nuno Alvares Pereira, who eventually became canonized in 2008. He began life in the country's army when he was 13. King Joao relied on his steadfast support as mastermind of the strategy against Castile, at the age of 23.  On the north side of a small hill, surrounded by creeks, Nuno drew up his army of 6,500 men which included 100 English longbowmen. The Castilians arrived, numbered 31,000 strong. When they saw that the better position was occupied, they rounded the base of the hill and moved to the south, which took several hours. The French cavalry supporting Castile charged in an hour before sunset, but the English bowmen and Portuguese archers devastated them. Within an hour, both sides had committed their forces but the victory clearly belonged to King Joao and his commander Nuno. The Portuguese forces numbered less than 1,000 dead. Castile has lost 10,000 of its men. It would take several more battles with Castile to finally allow Portugal's famed commander the peace he deserved. In 1411, Castile recognized King Joao's line as the legitimate rulers of Portugal. Nuno had a daughter who married into a future Portuguese royal house, the Braganza dynasty. He retired to a Carmelite monastery in 1423 and died eight years later. The 1755 earthquake destroyed his tomb.

Construction at Batalha started in 1385 and ended in 1517. King Joao, his Queen Philippa, and their sons Pedro, Henry the Navigator, Joao the Younger and Fernando are buried there, in addition to other monarchs. While it suffered some damage in the 1755 disaster, it was only until the mid-1800's when the monastery was abandoned. After its restoration, Batalha became a UNESCO heritage site.

I'm amazed that a site bearing a Moorish name is also home to pilgrimage for Portugal's Christians. The names supposedly derives from that of a Moorish princess, who after being captured, converted to Catholicism and married a Christian count. In 1917, Fatima gained attention because of the apparition of Mary, mother of Jesus which appeared to three children, 10-year old Lucia Santos and her cousins, Jacinta and Francisco Marto. The siblings died two to three years later, but Lucia survived until 2005, during which time she became a Carmelite nun. The sight of penitence and devotion by pilgrims arriving at Fatima on their knees fascinated me. They had a long way to travel between the entryway and the shrine. On opposite sides, the new and old cathedrals of Fatima tower over their heads. Some pictures from Fatima:

Old cathedral of Our Lady of Fatima

Cathedral entryway
Inside new cathedral of Our Lady of Fatima
Statue of Pope John Paul II at Fatima

View of Nazare from the cliffs
According to legend (or our guide Pascoal), a medieval monk brought a tiny statute of the Virgin Mary from Nazareth to this little Atlantic coastal area, from which the name of Nazare derives. I was surprised that the women of Nazare wear seven skirts - no explanation was provided for why. I stopped at a little grotto, called a chapel, atop a nearly sheer rock face. Going down the steps to see the statue that came from Nazareth, you have to duck your head a little or risk banging it into the stone ceiling. Not for the claustrophobic! The rocky crag has another legend associated with it. A 12th century nobleman was hunting a deer near the edge of the rocks and when it disappeared over the cliff, he almost followed. He prayed to the Virgin Mary to save him and his devotion helped him survive. Too bad about the deer.

Nazare on the Atlantic
I had lunch at a seaside restaurant, one of the best shrimp omelets I've ever had and  fish stew, but I would have been equally satisfied with the fresh-baked Portuguese rolls the server offered. Imagine hot crusty bread, steam still rising from the center. It's very similar to the salt bread I grew up on in Barbados. The dining experience was completed with this beautiful view of Nazare's coast. I hope when I have the chance to return to Portugal that I'll have more time to explore Nazare.

Obidos' medieval rampart
Lastly, Pascoal took us to the medieval town of Obidos, which had the feel of Segovia's walled enclosure, but somewhat less majestic. The whitewashed houses and their terracotta roofs line narrow, cobblestone streets, all in the midst of 13th century walls. There had been settlements at Obidos since the Roman times, which passed into the hands of the Visigoths and then the Moors, until 1148. In Obidos, I had this sickeningly sweet liqueur from the ginga berries, in a chocolate cup. It was an extremely sweet ending to a memorable trip. Driving back to Lisbon, I reflected on the journey. I doubt it will be another 10 years before I'm back in Portugal, or Spain, to experience more of the cultural beauty each country has to offer. Thanks for visiting the blog and sharing my journey.   


Alison said...

So beautiful, Lisa - I've been to the south of Spain twice, but never to Portugal. After reading your blog I'm raring to travel.

Lisa Yarde said...

Thank you Alison, I've been bitten by the travel bug so I know what you mean. Now, if only I could get rich off my writing to afford all that traveling...

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