Santarem boasts an interesting historical centre, full of Gothic monuments and quiet streets, faltering by steps. It is a charming place to go for a calm stroll.
The city is settled over a plateau made up of seven hills bordered by a Tajo’s meanders.
The origin of Santarém goes back to the Roman age when, with the name Colonia Scalabis Praesidium Julium, it was the capital of one of the three districts among which Lusitánica was divided. Its current name comes from the Miracle of Santa Iria or Eirene, in Visigothic Recceswinth times. The legend goes that, when the boat which miraculously was taking the body of the saint run aground, the King, who had just turned into Christianism, change the name of the place to Santa Eirene.
Afonso Henriques took the city in 1147 when it was under Arabic domain, after a bold attack in which the Temple Knights participated for the first time.
Something characteristic of this city’s civil architecture, houses and official buildings, are the bars and balconies on the facades, which are usually presented despite the narrowness of the streets, even joining together.
A highly advised tour departs from Figueiras Fountain, a Gothic jewel (13th-14th centuries). To the right, you will find the Santa Clara Convent, with its monumental church, and the São Francisco Convent, both Gothic style with geminated columns.
Nearby you will find the Jardim da República Garden with the Municipal Market, which is worth seeing due to the tiles with monumental and Ribatejo scenes. One of the sides leads to the Praça do Municipio Square with the Eugénio Silva Palace (17th century).
The old town is accessed by the famous Praça Sá da Bandeira Square, which exhibits a bronze statue of the Council’s president. In the same square raises the monumental Igreja do Seminário Church, a Jesuit Baroque church, which currently works as a cathedral.
In the opposite side of the square is found the little Igreja da Piedade Church, built in the 17th century.
The tour keeps going by the rua da Sepa Pinto Street, a commercial street with numerous iron balconies which flows into the Praça do Visconde Serra do Pilar Square and the Largo da Marvila, with the sober Igreja da Marvila Church, from which stands out a Manueline portico, and its inside covered in 17th century tiles.
Then, turn right at Rua 1º Dezembro street, and keep going along Rua Vila de Belmonte Street, which will take you directly to the Igreja da Graça Church, built in 1380 with a lavish Gothic style.
After visiting the Igreja da Graça you can go to the Cabaças Tower, where stands the Museu do Tempo (Time Museum), from terrace of which you can enjoy one of the best panoramic views of the whole city.
Next to the tower you find the Igreja de São João de Alporão Church, which probably is the most archaeologically valuable monument of Santarém. Its inside has been turned into the Archaeological Museum.
From the Avenida 5 de Octubro, you go into the Portas do Sol Garden, the last remains of the city which covered the citadel, turned today in the perfect place to picnic and relax.
Back to the centre, is it recommendable to visit the Igreja do Santísimo Milago, with a Baroque facade and a Renaissance hall church. Other interesting Baroque centres of the city are the Igreja da Misericórdia, and the São Nicolás.
A little further away from the centre, but also fascinating, is the Nossa Senhora do Monte Chapel (13th century), which is a great overlook.
A great date to visit Santarem is the first fortnight of June, when the Feira Nacional da Agricultura (National Farming Fair) is held. The fair is known all over the country for its horse races, its bullfights and cheerful spirit.
It also should be emphasized the Cuisine National Festival, celebrated for 15 days in October in Casa do Campino.
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