Alcobaça’s development is down the Monastery, also known as the Royal Abbey of Santa Maria. Dom Alfonso Henriques, the first king of Portugal, built a church to commemorate the conquest of Santarém from the Moors, in 1147. The king donated lands to Bernardo de Claraval and the Order of Cistercians, and building began in 1178 and finished about one hundred years later. At over 100 meters long it is the largest Gothic religious building in Portugal.
A characteristic of the Cistercians was agricultural work and the monks introduced new techniques and systems that transformed the region, which is still one of Portugal’s main fruit providers.
The kitchen dates from 1752, the huge chimney, supported by eight wrought iron columns, dominates the room. The walls are completely tiled, to make them easier to clean. Water was delivered to the kitchen via a canal system, demonstrating the ingenuity of the Cistercian monks hydraulic engineering skills.
Alcobaça has a Spal factory, founded in 1965, and I had a guided tour. Some of the machines looked architectural. It was interesting to see that a lot of the production processes are still done by hand. The 470 employees produce 18 million pieces a year, sixty percent of which are exported to forty five countries.