Portugal's City Travel Guide: Santarém
Santarém, located north east of Lisbon on high ground overlooking the River Tagus (Tejo), is a strategic city with a long history.
Santarém was occupied by the Romans and Visigoths and from the 8th to the 12th century by the Moors, when the city was known as Xantarim. In 1147, Santarém was retaken from the Moors by Dom Afonso Henriques.
Santarém has little remaining from the time of the Romans or Moors, though the Portas do Sol (Gates of the Sun), now a pleasant municipal garden with a statue of its conqueror, Afonso Henriques, is the site of the former Moorish castle.
There are tremendous views from the Portas do Sol out over the plain and the Tagus valley including the Ponte Dom Luis I Bridge over the river, which carries the N114 highway.
The Casa-Museu Passos Canavarro is located near Portas do Sol and is an art museum set in the 19th century former residence of the politician Manuel da Silva Passos (1801-1862), who was briefly Prime Minister of Portugal. The house contains 20th century art, 16th century maps from the Age of the Discoveries as well as Japanese furniture and netsuke. Visitors are shown the residence by the owner or a member of his family, who are distant relatives of Manuel da Silva Passos.
Other points of interest in Santarém include several Gothic churches.
The Convento de São Francisco is a restored 13th century Franciscan monastery, worth seeing for its beautiful cloister and its temporary exhibitions. The building was fully restored and reopened in 2012.
The Igreja da Santa Maria Graça is an early 15th century building and contains the tombs of Pedro Alvares Cabral (the "discoverer" of Brazil) and the more magnificent one of Pedro de Menezes, who was the first Portuguese governor of Ceuta, now a Spanish enclave in North Africa, and whose family founded the church. The Gothic church has a beautiful rose window and is considered the finest church in Santarém. In the square outside Santa Maria Graça is a statue of Cabral with cross and sword in hand. The Casa do Brasil is a cultural centre opposite the church said to be the family house of Cabral. It stages temporary art and cultural exhibitions.
Igreja de Marvila originally dates from the 12th century (possibly built over a former mosque) and the Knights Templar but was reworked in the 16th century with the addition of a fine Manueline doorway. Other Manueline features and motifs include the armillary sphere and the Cross of the Order of Christ. The interior has beautiful blue and white azulejos tiling from the 17th century.
The Jesuit Igreja do Seminário in Praça Sá da Bandeira is also the cathedral (Sé) of Santarém. The church dates from 1676 and has an impressive Baroque facade. The square is named after the Marquês de Sá da Bandeira, a Portuguese Prime Minister of the 1830's and a stout supporter of the abolition of slavery in Portugal and its territories.
The small Igreja do Santissimo Milagre (Church of the Holy Miracle) is known for a miracle said to have occurred in the 13th century. In an attempt to curb her husband's unfaithfulness, the wife consulted a witch who demanded a Eucharistic wafer from a holy mass. While carrying the wafer to the sorceress, it turned into blood. The woman rushed home and threw the bloody host into a trunk where it was miraculously encased in a crystal container now kept in the sacristy of the church. There is a small museum room attached to the church detailing the miracle with information in English as well as displays of religious icons and paintings.
Other churches in Santarém include the Igreja de Santa Clara, the Convento de São Francisco and the recently restored Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Piedade, virtually opposite the Igreja do Seminario, which has a very decorative interior with large paintings on the walls and above the altar.
Nearby to the Igreja do Seminário is the pleasant municipal market (Mercado Municipal de Santarém), where visitors can purchase some of the delicious food and wines this area of Portugal has to offer. The street running outside the market - Rua Dr. J Figueiredo - has a couple of cheap eateries. The Câmera Municipal (Town Hall) is also a little to the north in Largo do Municipio.
The Museu Arqueologico is housed in the 12th century Igreja de São João de Alporão and has displays of religious art, azulejos and the tomb of Dom Duarte de Menezes, a local knight killed in North Africa in 1464. The tomb is said to hold just the tooth of de Menezes - all that could be recovered from the battlefield.
Nearby is the Cabaças Tower, a part of the remaining defensive walls of the city. The name Torre das Cabaças comes from the eight calabashes (gourds) that increased the volume of the bell so it could be heard in surrounding villages in times of peril. The calabashes have since been replaced by ceramic pots. It is possible the Torre das Cabaças was formerly a minaret.
Many of Santarém's delicacies can be sampled during the lively Feira Nacional da Agricultura (Agricultural Fair) held in the town in early June and the Festival de Gastronomia in the last week of October/first week of November. The plain around Santarém is ideal for cattle breeding and it is no surprise that the town is considered the bullfighting capital of Portugal. During the Feira Nacional da Agricultura (feiranacionalagricultura.pt) a number of bullfights and bull running are held in the bullring (Praça de Touros) in the south west of town along with dressage events and concerts.
See here for a full listing of accommodation in the Ribatejo region of Portugal.
Santarém Tourist Office
Santarém Tourist Office
Rua Capelo e Ivens 63
Tel. 243 304 437.
Getting to Santarém
There are frequent trains from Lisbon to Santarém Station which is 2km south of town. The fastest trains from Santa Apolonia and Oriente take around 40 minutes to Santarém with local trains taking about an hour. After leaving Oriente Station local trains stop at Povoa, Alverca, Vila Franca de Xira, Azambuja, Virtudes, Reguengo-V.Pedra-Pontevel, Setil, Santana-Cartaxo and Vale de Santarem before arriving at Santarém.
Local buses connect to the center every 30 minutes or so from Santarém Station.
Regular buses from Lisbon or a hire car take about an hour to reach Santarém. The bus station in Santarém is close to Praça Sá da Bandeira on the Avenida do Brasil in the old town. Other buses run to Alpiarça (20 minutes), Abrantes (1 hour, 25 minutes), Coimbra (2 hours) and Fatima (45 minutes).