The Convent of Arrábida was built during the 16th and 17th Century, after being founded in 1542 by Friar Martinho de Santa Maria, a Castilian Franciscan, who was granted the land by the first duke of Aveiro. It became an important site for pilgrimage and a home to monks, living in cells carved into the steep rocks of the mountain range of Arrábida. With the suppression of religious orders in 1834, the monastery was left abandoned, deteriorating into a desolate state, until it was bought by the Palmela family and restored in the 1940s and ‘50s. In 1990 the entire land, comprising 25 hectares in total, was sold to the Fundaçao Oriente.
The isolated chapels dispersed throughout the mountains were looked after by the monks when the terrain was still inhabited, currently they seem abandoned or at least publicly unreachable.
Today one can visit the monastery with a guided tour, being shown the heart of the premises, while one can sense the luscious gardens and additional small buildings in close proximity. Upon entering the first patio by trespassing a passageway initially hidden to the eye behind a small altar, one immediately recognises the local vernacular Portuguese Architecture, with masses of white walls, which reflect the plentiful shadows of the plants, still sheltering the curious visitor from the spectacular views to come. Slowly the beauty of the floor plan unravels as one walks along the myriad small alleys leading further and further up the mountain, through the former refectory, the kitchen, the laundry and lastly to the dormitories of the monks and pilgrims.
Although the cells measure less than 10m2 each, the small square windows that allow a view over the Atlantic ocean, at times barely distinguishable from the blue Portuguese sky above, give a generosity and grandeur to the rooms that surely very few convents of the time could rival with. The natural water system throughout the convent is still intact and worth taking a closer look at, together with an extremely old and tall cactus, original mosaics and cork doors.