Chapel do Monte by Alvaro Siza

The Chapel do Monte is the central point of the new Monte de Caparica complex, a private initiative that offers visitors from the Portuguese Algarve region a peaceful refuge, rest and spiritual retreat. The new nucleus became an agricultural village that was abandoned and turned into a ruin, like many other towns in the region.


Chapel do Monte stands on top of a hill, on land not previously built, but with unique characteristics due to its location and landscape. The architect Alvaro Siza was chosen to build a small chapel that would represent the values of the new community that was developing, based on self-sufficiency, respect for the environment and tranquility.


For Siza, it means creating a pure architectural project, in an area where previously it had not been built and in an enclave of incomparable beauty. The building is placed on the hill, adapting to it, saving the difference of heights through a platform that extends to the outside the space intervened by man.


The Chapel do Monte, with a surface of about 10.34 x 6.34 meters, is built as a monolithic volume pierced in search of light. The interior space is illuminated through different openings, all connected and linked to each other.


In the Chapel do Monte, Alvaro Siza recreates an architecture that chains spaces and light inputs in a natural way, respecting and relating to the environment


From the entrance, what apparently seems to be the entrance to a closed building to the outside, the architecture of Siza returns to make the space more complex while giving it simplicity. A semi-closed atrium welcomes, after crossing the access door, a concatenation of spaces of different dimensions, some of them connected to the outside, gives way to the space itself of chapel, closed and white, with a tile base that runs through all room.


The chapel area is completed with a high opening in the area of ​​the altar, and the whiteness of the space is counteracted by the warmth of the wooden furniture, also designed by the architect. The direct light that enters the chapel slides and runs through the floor and part of the wall. The time is reflected by the movement of light throughout the building, through torn and thin, high and low openings that change the perception of space.


The construction itself of the Chapel do Monte is made by stone, brick and tile. The chapel lacks running water and electricity, so the importance of cross ventilation and natural lighting are key elements in the configuration of the building. Siza studies the architecture of the Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy, and his buildings in Africa, to provide the chapel with the appropriate habitable characteristics.


The route to the chapel is part of the experience of recollection, a path that rises little by little leads us to the Chapel do Monte. A platform extends over the landscape and is linked to the building itself. Once inside, the construction materials isolate us from the cold and heat. Iconographic elements such as Alvaro Siza’s mural drawings of the white tiles represent scenes from the life of Jesus.


A sequence of events based on silence, discovery and observation allow us to know the environment and architecture of the Portuguese Algarve.


Photography by João Morgado.