Explore Santarém Municipality Portugal in 2024

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As you plan your next trip to Portugal, chances are you’d want to do a bit of sight-seeing and get more hands-on with the experience. As Phil Cosineau puts it in his book, The Art of Pilgrimage, “The difference between a pilgrim and a tourist is the intention of attention and the quality of the curiosity.” Throughout your activities during the trip, It’s best to maintain enough curiosity to make it all worthwhile.

Luckily, there is one city in Portugal where your curiosity can flourish. Santarem Municipality happens to be a destination that’s easy to miss on popular travel itineraries, but you’d be glad you didn’t when you visited. 

About the City

Santarem is situated on a plateau formed by seven hills and bordered by a bend in the Tagus River. Dramatic geography aside, the city goes back to Roman times. It was originally known as Colonia Scalabis Praesidium Julium, and it served as the capital of one of the three districts of Lusitania at the time. 

According to legend, the city got its current name when Visigothic ruler Recesvinto renamed the settlement in honor of  Santa Iria or Saint Irene following a miraculous event involving her body.

In 1147, Afonso Henriques captured Santarém from Moorish rule, marking a significant moment in its history, notably through the involvement of the Knights Templar in a particularly reckless siege. Architectural features of the city from those times still remain, including the ubiquitous railings and balconies adorning facades. You’d find them in the narrowest of streets.

Exploring Santarem

An ideal starting point for exploring Santarém is Fonte das Figueiras, a proper Gothic gem dating back to the 13th and 14th centuries. Just nearby, you’d find the Convento de Santa Clara and the Convento de São Francisco, both showcasing impressive Gothic architecture with their twin columns.

Next, head over to Jardim da República and the Municipal Market. You’d want to stop and take pictures of their ornate tiles, which depict monuments and images of Ribatejo, a region to which Santarém belongs.

You wouldn’t want to miss Jardim das Portas do Sol, which is a delightful country garden. The rest of the historic center beckons visitors through Praça Sá da Bandeira, featuring a bronze statue honoring a former President of the Council. Within this square lies the monumental Seminary Church, a Baroque masterpiece originally constructed as a Jesuit church and now serving as a cathedral, embodying the city’s rich architectural heritage.

Other Attractions

  1. Shop at Mercado Municipal

Also known as Santarem’s covered market, Mercado Municipal is a worthy attraction while you’re in the city. It was established in 1928 and features a spacious hall supported by metal columns and a roof, while its exterior maintains a traditional facade.

This architectural gem not only serves as a shopping destination but also offers a cultural experience. Adorning its walls are 63 glazed tile panels, crafted by the renowned Fábrica Aleluia in Aveiro. These panels depict the history of agriculture and trade along the River Tagus and throughout the broader Santarém region, providing visitors with insight into the area’s rich heritage.

Stepping inside the market hall will give you a glimpse into everyday life in Santarém, making it a compelling stop if you really want to drink up on the local atmosphere.

Operating daily until midnight, the market provides a wide array of products, including fish, meat, fruits, vegetables, and flowers, ensuring that visitors can find all the essentials and more during their visit.

  1. Have a Drink at Miradouro de São Bento

Located on the eastern side of Santarém, Miradouro de São Bento is a lookout bridge that offers breathtaking panoramas of the Tagus River and its expansive plains.

From this vantage point, you get to admire the vast, flat landscape stretching for many miles to the east and south. The scene is adorned with chequerboard fields, the meandering course of the Tagus River, and the iconic Ponte de D. Luís. This bridge was inaugurated in 1881 and serves as a striking landmark against the natural backdrop.

Access to the viewpoint is facilitated by a small esplanade, which makes up much of the lookout area. A nearby bar with a terrace provides the perfect setting to enjoy a cold drink amidst these picturesque surroundings.

  1. See the Limestone massifs at Serras de Aire e Candeeiros Natural Park

You can visit Serras de Aire e Candeeiros Natural Park to see some limestone features in Santarem. It’s a good thing that the southern boundaries of this natural park are easily accessible, just a 20-minute drive away.

This limestone massif is adorned with a plethora of natural marvels waiting to be explored. At Vale de Meios, you get to see literal dinosaur footprints! They’ve been preserved in the rock formations of one of the park’s former quarries.

The Mira de Aire caves offer an unforgettable experience as visitors can descend 110 meters into a vast chamber within the earth. It’s counted among Portugal’s seven natural wonders.

Additionally, the park boasts castles, numerous caves, salt pans, natural springs, and idyllic farmland divided by dry stone walls, providing ample opportunities for exploration and immersion in the region’s natural beauty.

Santarem offers a wealth of opportunities for travel exploration and discovery. If you have the right curiosity, the city invites you to dive deeper into Portuguese culture and history. We’ve highlighted some fundamental details you need to know about the city, and how best you can navigate it for the best experience.

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