Santarém – My Great Door to the world
Forty years ago, when the dictatorship kept us inside the hard to cross borders of an undeveloped country, I met, in Santarém an opened door to the world.
The Folklore Festival was the highest point of the National Agricultural Exhibition, and a rare opportunity to meet other cultures and civilizations.
That’s a long… long story, but the first time I went further than Spain, it was from Santarém with two local friends, and that’s where my travel “disease” really started.
City Hall occupies since 1954 a palace called “Eugénio Silva” one of the owners in the 19th century, however the palace was built in the 17th for Meneses family. It is a sober and nice construction, with two beautiful halls. The garden and the facing square were recently embellished.
Once called the Portuguese Gothic capital, decadence vanished most signs of that time.
Decadence is a word that hurts the conscience of several generations in Santarém, however, the centre of the city still keeps a few traces of the old days, and recent recuperation works saved enough to turn a stroll in the small old city an interesting pleasure.
Portas do Sol
An old Moorish castle, overlooking the river, is one of the best spots of Santarém.
Still keeping the medieval walls, the sights over the marshy banks of Tejo extend past Almeirim and Alpiarça.
It is a very nice and calm visit, in the centre of town, surrounded by gardens and the historic area.
Located in Portas do Sol area, this is one of the oldest churches in Portugal, built in the 12th century immediately after the conquest of Santarém by the Portuguese from the moors.
However, its actual look is mainly the result of recuperation works in the 18th century.
S João de Alporão church
This church, in the old city, was built in the 13th century, and shows the transition from Roman to Gothic styles.
Torre das Cabaças
This square tower, about 26 meters high was built in the 15th century, and got its name from eight pieces of clay with the shape of a calabash, used to amplify the bell’s sound.
It is located in the historic centre, close to Marvila church.
This Gothic church, in the centre of the city, was restored in the 16th century by order of king Manuel I, which justifies some Manueline elements.
It also has some beautiful tiles from the 17th century.
Built in the 16th century, this church in late Renaissance style suffered a few modifications, mainly in the facade, damaged by Lisbon earthquake.
Rebuilt in Baroque style, this facade already includes a few Rococo elements.
Centrally located in the old town, it’s easy to visit this church.
Many names for a single church -“Convento de Nossa Senhora de Jesus do Sítio”, “Igreja do Hospital” or “Igreja de Cristo” mean the same – a convent from the final of the 17th century, located in the centre of the city, near southern entrance.
The convent now houses a school, but the church is a national monument, and annexed to it there’s St Francis golden chapel, one of the best gems of Portuguese Baroque.
For a long time a large avenue, the central area of town became a modern garden, pushing the cars to one side.
Not too dense, nor inviting to rest, it has some modern sculptures and fountains, covering a subterranean park.
I don’t know how much did it cost, but as usually in these things, I may guess that it was much more than the amount that the improvement justified.
Santarém is one of the most distinguishable cities of Portugal dealing with agriculture.
The National Fair, the high school, and the cultural connections to the traditional activities are signs of the way that Santarém lives with nature.
However, I was not expecting to find, in a gardened area in the centre of the city, the wonderful image of a tree where the “flowers” were… medlar.
With the recent trend in all municipalities to build roundabouts wherever they can, Santarém couldn’t stay out of it.
The common decoration goes from a wild garden, if they may spend money, to a fountain or statue if they may spend much more money.
In Santarém the trend is… statues, some of them nice, and, for sure, meaning something that nobody cares to discover. This one, at the western entrance of town, has a legend dating 2001 with the name ” I´m my own horse” created by “Santos Lopes”.
Pleasant spots… at a price.
Cândido dos Reis square
Modern Santarém is well integrated with the historic centre.
Life flows around a large axis, topped by this square where monuments and new architecture combine well.
1st of May
In 1919, we were living the confusion of our first republic, dominated by the dispute between republican leaders and the catholic church.
Some excellent examples of possible coexistence did happen, one of them in Santarém, where the organization of the local workers decide to celebrate the priest Francisco José Nunes da Silva, for his important work helping them in each day difficulties.
The statue is there, in the 1st May square.
Located in Sá da Bandeira square, this church was built in 1664 by king Afonso VI’s orders, to celebrate the victory in Ameixial battle.
In the so called Portuguese Gothic capital, this is a Mannerist church, decorated with marble inlaids and a few paintings.
Sá da Bandeira square
The most beautiful square in Santarém is Sá da Bandeira square.
Surrounded by classical buildings and churches, the square, closed to traffic, shows in its centre the general’s statue, maybe the most remarkable in town.
Born in Santarém in 1795, Sá da Bandeira was a very active and important politician in the revolutionary 19th century, whose name was given to Lubango city, in Angola, during Portuguese possession.
In 1647, king João IV donated the former Royal Palace to the Jesuits in exchange for the construction of a church.
With a mannerist facade, it has a Baroque interior, with marble altars, tiles, and painted ceilings.
The facing square is the main “living room” of the city, receiving most of the popular meetings and events in town.
If you ask me what is my first and stronger image of Santarém, I would not hesitate to answer – the market.
I always loved it – 60 years ago because my parents used to buy me there a cake with the shape (and size) of a pigeon, that I couldn’t find anywhere else.
Now, because it evidences the spirit of town – dynamism and modernity, but with a strong respect for tradition.
Built in 1924, is has a typical architecture that combines iron and tiles in a very traditional manner. I do believe that they keep selling “pigeons” there.
If you visit Santarém you will end asking yourself what will it be a big cupola seen from almost everywhere in town.
If you try to approach, it will disappear behind large walls.
It is a military prison.
Built in 1890, I read that it is the most beautiful iron building in Santarém, but… how to visit it?
No… I mean how to enter… and exit moments later?
One of the best examples of Portuguese Gothic, this church from the 14th century is particularly famous for its rose window.
Made from a single stone, it was carved as lace, with a fabulous result.
Inside it is buried Pedro Alvares Cabral, who discovered Brazil.
S. Francisco convent
This monument is one of the best examples of Portuguese “Mendicante” Gothic, which means the style used by the monks of St Francis in the middle age.
Severely damaged it is being restored, and though the works are slow, it is already possible to see some interesting details.
Santa Clara convent
Close to St Francis church, there’s another Gothic temple, from the same period, this one once occupied by the nuns.
Though in much better condition than St Francis, this church suffered many transformations, showing today only a few original details.
Santarém stands atop a steep hill.
The western incline has been softened with construction, with the city unfolding and growing in that direction.
The eastern side, facing the river, maintains its abrupt look, with traditional houses and gardened areas filling the slopes.
The descent to the river follows a narrow valley, covered by many high and very old trees.
Train station complex
The train station, located in a small village called Ribeira de Santarém, two or three kilometers out of town, is a beautiful building from 1927, recently classified as a public monument.
In 1979 a secondary building (“Cocheira de carruagens”) was transformed in a museum, displaying several engines, documents and crafts connected to the railroad operation and maintenance.
For those travelling by train it is wise to reserve some more minutes to look around.
Ribeira de Santarém
Ribeira de Santarém it’s a rather common village, only a few kilometers from Santarém, by its railway station, but during the frequent flooding periods it becomes one of the centers of national attention, and the calm struggle of its population to face the blessed rising of the waters is a marvelous show.
Fortunately they are so prepared for that event that, usually, there are no significant damages in the village.
Flooding of river Tejo is common, even desired by the population for what it means in fertility.
Everybody is used to it, and the calm shown while they take the needed measures to protect their belongings is remarkable.
Some incidents may occur, but in Santarém area they are uncommon.
For many years the great event that it is our national fair of agriculture took place inside Santarém, in the area surrounding the bullring.
It had a special feeling and ambiance, and though knowing nothing about agriculture, after discovering it in 1971, I always tried my best to visit it.
Politics and the small area available moved the event out of town, to a wider area a few kilometers south of it.
The area and the fixed installations got the name of the organization (CNEMA), and, to be honest, I only went there a couple of times.
However, I like the inevitable statue in the roundabout placed to exit the freeway, a very happy representation of the “campinos” leading the bulls.
Several months ago I noticed that the statue was removed, for unknown reasons. Reading the blog “Meus caminhos Ribatejo” I realized that it was removed because some savages were stealing everything they could break, to sell in copper black market.
Santarém is the joyful capital of bullfights, and everything concerning bulls is important in local culture and traditions.
I’m not a bullfight lover, but I saw one ( and just one) exactly at… Santarém, of course.
Even for those who don’t like the “corrida”, the visit to the fields where the bulls are created in freedom, the contact with the elegant and proud guys that risk their lives in that hard job (campinos), with wine, folklore and fado around, are something to remember, and… part of the party.
The most Portuguese moment in a bullfight is when eight men (forcados) try to immobilize the bull only by arms’ force.
The top of emotion in the show is when one of them faces and challenges the bull, with the other seven lined behind him not to distract the animal.
More than a bravado, being a forcado is a social distinction, with a cultural behavior associated, replacing football as the conversations’ theme in the day after.
Funny that, in the public garden in the center of town, the forcados are represented by a bowling combination. In this game, the pins must beat the ball.
Santarém is one of our “capitals” for folklore events.
Local dances and costumes are very beautiful, and they share their pride with all the world, in regular international festivals.
While a student I cooperated several times with the organization, there getting the love for that kind of artistic demonstration that I still have.
“Queima das fitas”
Santarém is not a typical university city, meaning that it has no tradition in that level of teaching, except in agriculture.
However, after the revolution of 1974 a Poly-technical Institute was created in the city, and a few more hundred students started to live there, bringing to the day life the common academic traditions.
Aware of its rich traditions, it will be funny to see how will Santarém incorporate these new ones.
The Hermitage of Nossa Senhora do Monte, is located at the northern end of the old part of Santarém.
It was built during the 12th century, passing ownership between various religious institutions. In the 16th century it underwent a restoration that introduced Renaissance elements.
It is now a national monument, showing signs of the various interventions it has undergone, and of the various aesthetic concepts.
The castle of Santarém was one of the first and most important achievements of the first king of Portugal, during the recovery of territory from the Arabs.
Today it is just a ruin that, due to its historical importance, is undergoing reconstruction works.
Located on the outskirts of the city, the municipal swimming pools are part of a pleasant complex, with indoor swimming pools that are open all the time, and other outdoor pools that are open only in the summer.
I confess that I only visited them for a “dip” in a sushi dinner at the attached restaurant.
When I like a restaurant I generally prefer to repeat the good experiences, instead of risking anywhere else. That’s what generally happens in Santarém, but, this time, I was rushy, and decided to try a restaurant somewhat hidden in a residential area west of town.
I didn’t repent because the simple restaurant served us quickly, decent food, at a small price. Not bad and being close to the physiotherapist where I make regular treatments, I surely will try it again to make a definitive idea.
Address: Praceta Cón. Dr Manuel Nunes Formigão, loja 7/B
Phone: +351 243 372 262
Nothing to complaint, nothing to remember. I needed to have a quick lunch… and I did, without the poisoning fast-food. The food was seriously made but with a… industrial sensation.
The price was regular.
Located at the north entrance of town, not touristy, nor residential, nor even hardly industrialized, I couldn’t understand the target of this restaurant, but I don’t want to leave a negative image, since the hurry of our meal didn’t give us time and availability to check the menu and to try to find something more interesting.
Not so fast food
I don’t like eating in malls, because everything gives me the sensation of industrialization, where centuries of civilization are despised in named of business and quick feeding.
I accept a sandwich in a picnic, a stop in a trip, a meal squeezed in a tight scheduling, or in the absence of an alternative. I don’t like to see dozens (or hundreds) of people, in modern and sometimes pretentious places, eating like savages, licking fingers oiled by french fries, all coming from and returning to a paper basket.
I like to eat in a dish, with a fork and knife, clean fingers, and drinking in glass instead of plastic.
That’s me, an old fashion guy.
A couple of days ago I had to lunch in Santarém, in a mall called “W”, and, amidst the several fast food stalls I tried to choose the “slowest” one.
I choose “Praça” a restaurant with a buffet of normal food.
At the entrance, a placard announced 5.85 € for a full dish (with some weight and quality controls, in the small words).
The food looked good, and I decided to eat a cold entrance (tuna salad) and grilled meat with rice and black beans. Of course, I putted the cold salad in a dish, and the hot buffet in another, both in small quantities. Before me, a big guy, transported a dish full of everything, desperately trying not to spill anything.
The waiter at the register weighed his dish, made his price, and looking at mine, ordered: – You have to put everything in the same dish.
– Of course, I will not. I don’t want a hot salad or a cold grill. Charge me as you please, but I’m not going to follow orders about how to eat.
Normalization didn’t work with me. I paid the regular price, the salad was delicious and refreshing, the grill was tasty, the price was fair, but I didn’t eat dessert because for that I would have to mix the good looking fruit salad with everything else, IN THE SAME DISH.
I made a concession – Plastic to drink the regular wine.
Address: W shopping mall
If you plan to come to Portugal remember this word – “Lagareiro”.
Lagareiro is the professional that smashes the olives to produce olive oil, but it is also a common word in one of the Portuguese cuisine specialties.
As expected, something “à lagareiro” is food swimming in olive oil. No, it is not fat and oily, it is delicious and healthy.
Ninety per cent of the phrases “à lagareiro” follow “bacalhau” (codfish). Th other ten follow “polvo” (octopus).
Why this introduction?
Because in Portugal we say that “There is no rule without exception”, and I found the exception.
In this large, and good looking restaurant by the road, 6 km far from Santarém, and close to the industrial area, I found… “Bife (steak) à lagareiro”. Excellent!
It was made in the common way: Baking a few small potatoes with peel in a bed of salt, at the end, removed the salt, a small punch in each one opens them without smashing. After it they add the grilled bacalhau or polvo (or steak). Everything is generously irrigated with olive oil, covered with thin slices of garlic and coriander, and goes to the oven a few minutes just to heat the oil and mix the flavours.
Rentini reached the perfection: the grilled steak was tender and perfectly grilled. The fabulous balance of the trilogy “coriander-garlic-olive oil” obliged me to eat… everything, until the last potato. (Yes! I know! I must dance one more hour tonight!)
Could you imagine that, after this, Fernanda’s good fried flounder with “açorda” (See? – there are words and tastes that you can only learn physically present) , wine and coffee, we paid 22 €?
We repeated this restaurant several times, and though the surprise is gone, I still like to eat there.
Favorite Dish: Bife à Lagareiro
Address: EN 114 Casais do Quintão Perofilho
Splash – El Galego
I only used this restaurant once, for a sushi dinner with friends, overlooking the pools of Santarém.
Dinner was great, and the location, at least out of the summer hustle and bustle to use the pools, very accessible, with parking facilities.
Sushi will be a recurring event, alternating with carvery, which I haven’t tried.
I enjoyed it and will come back if I can.
Next to the market, a row of restaurants forces us to hesitate before discovering it.
I tried them all, and Capote was my favorite by far. Traditional food, well served, at correct prices. Repeat several times.
A single visit, no reason to complain, but no dazzling.
Simple food, simple service, reasonable prices, but there were people in the neighborhood who pleased me the most.
Perhaps because it is well known and frequented, it was our least favorite among the restaurants next to the market.
Some confusion in the service and the food was satisfactory but without creativity or imagination.
I never slept there, I did never enter it, so why do I mention this hostel? Because, knowing Santarém for more than 50 years, Abidis was, since 1942, THE suggested hotel by my friends, every time that I “almost” slept in the city.
More than a place to stay it was a kind of cultural reference.
Today, Santarém has several hotels for all kind of prices, but… Abidis is always the first name in my mind.
It seems to keep working, but I got no references at all about it, good or bad. I will ask my friends, next time in Santarém.
Address: R. Guilherme de Azevedo Phone: +351 243322017
Liberty – Salgueiro Maia
Once upon a time I had a friend who was a captain. One day,that captain led his soldiers from Santarém to Lisbon, and became the national hero of April 25 revolution.
I was in the war, in Angola, and only could embrace Salgueiro Maia, several months later, a few years before his premature death.
The statue in front of the abandoned military quarters represents what our history called “Infante Santo”. a nobble who died prisoner in Fes, after our defeat in Ksar-el Kibir, but my memories go to the lost friend.
There’s a statue of my friend Maia in Santarém, but not in the place where I think that it should be – here.
João Moreira Street
I had the pleasure to be invited to Santarém to celebrate a friend of the world, and by coincidence… mine too.
João Moreira, a professional bachelor now over 92, is at ease everywhere: with a tiny budget (one third of my small one) he went with me across Spain, France, Belgium, England in my first big trip, for a month.
It’s a small world, for him, hardly accommodating his heart.
In my last birthday (he always phones me, failing just once in the last 30 years, because he couldn’t do it from… Macau), he was arriving from Florida – almost blind… tight in diets, hardly walking, with a monthly pension hardly covering each month’s needs in Portugal.
But… friends! He has them everywhere. I will not resist to repeat the words of Harry, a dutch writer in love with Santarém, about João Moreira, in a bad Portuguese: “João Moreira very good person – he is always available to offer my bed to his friends”
That’s it. If you need a friend in Santarém… there’s João Moreira.
No one gets bored beside him! I keep visiting Santarém often now, thanks to… dance. João Moreira street is out of my beaten path, but João isn’t.
João Moreira gave up and died on December 7, 2017, at the age of 95. Most memories of Santarém are gone, and the world is poorer…
Folk Dance in Santarém annual fair was a must. A good starting point to discover the unknown world (we were under a dictatorship) and the real Portugal. Now the fair despised the folk festival, and I “forgot” the fair, but my memories of Santarém will always have a space to folk dancing.
W – Central shopping
After some years just passing by, the recent need to visit frequently Santarém with Fernanda, forced… the inevitable – this shopping is now almost mandatory in all visits.
What can I say?
It is a shopping, it sells… things, like all the other, it is centrally located and allows parking cheaper than the adjacent public parking.
A couple of kilometers out of the city, near the exhibition campground of CNEMA, this large complex puts together several big stores, selling almost everything, for kids, house and do-it-yourself.
However, each time I go there I find a new vacante shop.
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