The Hydraulic SystemTHE HYDRAULIC SYSTEM
The Monastery of Santa Maria da Vitória was built in a pleasant natural location, densely forested and nestling in a valley at the confluence of various water courses (the streams of Calvaria and Quinto do Sobrado as well as the river Lena) and close to important or eventually important communication routes to Leiria, Santarém and Lisboa.
The physiographical characteristics of the setting, sloping south to north and east to west, facilitated the installation of the convent’s hydraulic system, as well as the overlying construction of the church, according to the requirements of the Dominican Order.
Soft drinking water was drawn from a spring found in Jardoeira, at about 0.9 km deep, through subterranean pipes all the way to the wash stall of the royal cloister. We know with certainty where the two well-heads were located, close to the Casalinho de Santo António, still functioning to this day and supplying running water to what today is called the washroom of the friars. Once it got here, the water would have been shared with the kitchen and then diverted according to the needs of the convent, though after the religious orders were suppressed in 1834, and the building absorbed into the National Exchequer with the kitchen and dependencies being adapted for alternative uses, most of its functions were subsequently ignored.
At the heart of the royal cloister, there is a well with a high storage capacity. This most certainly would have served for the initial convent supply, until the conclusion of the hydraulic system in question, and for the watering of the adjacent garden. In periods when water was scarcer, this would definitely have served as an emergency reserve for the religious community.
In turn the drainage system, partly underground, in part visible to the naked eye, came from a weir upstream of the convent (the weir of Loureiro), formed at the confluence of the streams of Calvaria and Quinta do Sobrado. This canal, passing under the kitchen and the latrines and where the secondary system of residual and sewage water flowed, would end up emptied in plain sight into the river Lena..
The drainage of the well of the royal cloister and rainwater was done via the drain running along the eastern wing of the cloister, starting in the nave on the north side of the church, and then emptied into the evacuation basin, situated just before the latrines and thus reinforcing their flow.
The construction of this important double system for the extraction of drinking water and the drainage of the sewers of the old Dominican Monastery of Santa Maria da Vitória, which goes as far back as the middle of the 15th century, illustrates the experience and technical skill of the master builder, when it came to hydraulic engineering and innovative sanitation.