Just near Castelo de São Jorge, the castle on top of the hill in the Alfama district in Lisbon, is the impressive 17th century monastery and church of São Vincente de Fora. The massive building sits on a hilltop overlooking the city. The main late Renaissance (Mannerist) façade of the church is the result of King Phillip II of Spain wanting to make an impression when he ruled Portugal but there’s been a church here since the 12th century when Saint Vincent’s bones were brought to the city from the Algarve – he’s patron saint of Lisbon.
While the church is lovely inside with a big dome and a beautiful Baroque altarpiece, it’s the monastery itself you want to explore. Enter through a door in a gateway in the wall near the front of the church. Inside you’ll find impressive traditional Portuguese tiling depicting the history of the monastery. These 18th century azulejos are some of the best in the city and certainly some of the largest narrative panels. Look out for scenes of the Siege of Lisbon in 1147 when the Christians took control of Lisbon and evicted the Moors; the church is built on the site of the conqueror’s camp, outside the then city walls (de Fora). In the old monastery refectory are the tombs of all the Portuguese monarchs (the House of Braganca) from Joao IV who took back the throne into Portuguese hands in 1640 to Manuel II who in 1910 lost the crown in the Republican Revolution that displaced the monarchy. The monastery terrace has a café which has stunning views over the city and the Tagus River.