It was the last day in Portugal and we drove cross-country from Flor da Rosa to Lisbon Airport, reluctant to leave the sunshine and flowers and, let’s face it, reluctant to return to ‘real life’ and responsibilities!
We stopped in Santarém for a few hours – not long enough, but all the time we had on this occasion. The Romans founded the city, which they called Scalabis, on the Tagus River in c.200 BC. It was taken over by the Visigoths, who were followed in the 8C by the Arabs who renamed the town ‘Chanterein’. The Portuguese reconquered the city in 1147 and it became an important city in Mediaeval times, with many monasteries, churches, and a Royal Palace, previously on the site of the Cathedral.
But before we walked round the town we needed refreshment! It was a Sunday and the Church service had just ended so people were gathering for coffee and a chat in the main square before lunch. It was fun and I was going to enjoy my last Pastel de Nata.
We started exploring in the Baroque Church which dominates the centre of the old town. It was built by the Jesuits in the 17C & 18C and only designated as the Cathedral in 1975. We lingered in the incredibly ornate interior but did not venture into the Museum which would have been part of the Seminary – there is always ‘next time’ and I wanted to walk around the town.
Afterwards we walked through the deserted town to find the Castle. I was struck by all the tiles on the buildings – really attractive and bright – even the Market, built in 1928, was decorated.
King Dinis renovated the town’s fortifications in Mediaeval times as part of his strengthening of Portugal’s borders, and there was further work in the 17C. However, from the 1800s onwards the structures have either deteriorated or been demolished to accommodate roads and urban expansion – what a pity. In the gardens is a statue of King Afonso I, the first King of Portugal.
And we still had time to explore some of the Gothic Churches for which Santarém is renowned – one more post before leaving Portugal!