Tag Archives: Tomar

Portugal – Mafra and World Heritage Sites

Taking a break from the beaches we took a short ride to the nearby city of Mafra which is an unremarkable sort of place except for a very good cake shop and the magnificent Royal Palace which is enormous and can be seen from several miles away. The palace is huge and  covers an area of almost two and a half square miles and has one thousand two hundred rooms.

It is part Palace, part Cathedral and part Convent and is one of the fourteen UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Portugal.

It is the biggest Royal Palace in Portugal and  makes it even more famous is that the last King of Portugal, Manuel II spent his last night in Portugal at the Palace after being deposed in October 1910.  He escaped the next day by Royal Yacht from Ericeira and lived the remainder of his life in exile in England, in Twickenham.

I am guessing that the lady with no bra on is the Portuguese equivalent of the French Madame Liberty…

I am afraid that I am quite unable to explain why Republican icon Madame Liberty has no clothes on. It is an interesting fact however that when the French built the Statue of Liberty for the USA they made sure that she was more discreetly attired so as not to offend New World sensibilities.

There is nothing else to tell you about Mafra or Madame Liberty.  So… 

Just like Brooke Bond Tea Cards I am a collector of World Heritage Site visits, if there is one close by then I just have to go.  Here are some more that I have been to in Portugal…

Coimbra

Built in the eighteenth century, the University is a National Monument and has priceless historical value being the main tourist attraction in Coimbra.  The building has three floors and contains about two hundred and fifty thousand volumes and being someone who loves books this place is a little bit of heaven.  The collection dates from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries and represents the finest works from Europe at the time on the subjects of medicine, geography, history, science, law, philosophy and theology.

Tomar

Tomar is one of the most historically important cities in all of Portugal with a history that stretches back to the Romans and probably even before that.   Fast forward a thousand years and after the capture of the region from the Moors in the Portuguese Reconquista, the land was granted in 1159 to the Order of the Knights Templar. In 1160, the Grand Master in Portugal, Gualdim Pais, laid the first stone of the Castle and Monastery that would become the headquarters of the Order in Portugal and from here they pledged to defend Portugal from any subsequent Moorish attacks and raids

Elvas

Turns out is the biggest fortified town not only in Portugal but all of Europe. Inside the fortress town we walked through the ancient whitewashed streets, cobbled streets which were painful to negotiate in tourist sandals.  Along narrow passages lined by houses with blistered wooden doors,  Shutters thrown back like the wings of butterflies basking in the midday sunshine.  Sagging washing lines groaning under the weight of the dripping laundry.  The rich aroma of lunch time cooking seeping out from open windows.  Outside of the front doors pots of flowers in various stages of bloom and decay.

Guimarães

As the first capital of Portugal, Guimarães is known as the place where the country was born – ‘The Cradle City’.  In 1095 Count Henry of Burgundy, who had married princess Teresa of León, established in Guimarães the second County of Portugal and on July 25th 1109 Afonso Henriques, son of Count Henry of Burgundy, was born here and it was where Duke Afonso Henriques proclaimed Portuguese independence from the Kingdom of León, after the Battle of São Mamede in 1128, declaring himself to be Afonso I, King of Portugal.

Evora

Évora is an interesting city and has a busy history.  The Romans conquered it in 57 BC and built the first walled town.  During the barbarian invasions Évora came under the rule of the Visigothic king Leovigild in 584.  In 715, the city was conquered by the Moors and during this period the town slowly began to prosper and developed into an agricultural centre with a fortress and a mosque.

Évora was captured from the Moors through a surprise attack by Gerald the Fearless (what a fabulous name) in 1165 and the city came under the rule of the Portuguese king Afonso I in 1166 and then for a few hundred years or so it then flourished as one of the most dynamic cities in the Kingdom of Portugal.

The River Duoro

At five hundred and sixty miles long  the Douro is the eighth longest river in Western Europe (the eighteenth in all of Europe) and flows first through Spain and then Portugal and meets the Atlantic Ocean at Porto.  This part of the Douro Valley, and for about sixty miles towards Spain, has a microclimate allowing for cultivation of olives, almonds, and especially the grapes and the hillsides are scattered with picturesque quintas or farms clinging on to almost every improbable vertical slope dropping down to the river where tourist boats were making the daily return trip to Porto.

Bom Jesus do Monte

Many hilltops in Portugal have been places of religious devotion and the Bom Jesus hill was one of these. It was an ancient site where in 1629 a pilgrimage church was built dedicated to the Bom Jesus (Good Jesus), with six chapels dedicated to the Passion of Christ.  The present Sanctuary was begun in 1722, under the patronage of the Archbishop of Braga, Rodrigo de Moura Telles and under his direction the first stairway row, with chapels dedicated to the Via Crucis, were completed.  He also sponsored the next segment of stairways, which has a zigzag shape and is dedicated to the Five Senses of Sight, Smell, Hearing, Touch and Taste and each is represented by a different fountain.

Porto

The historical centre of Porto is a declared UNESCO World Heritage Site and we were now approaching one of the six bridges across the River Douro, the Ponte Dom Luis I, which is an iron bridge designed by a student of Gustav Eiffel and built on two levels. From the top elevation there were unbeatable views of the river, the old town and Vila Nova de Gaia, a sister city on the other side of the river. 

I will tell you about Sintra and Lisbon in later posts, the three that I haven’t got around to yet are the Coa Valley, Batalhia and Alcobaca.  Watch this space.

More from Mafra…

Portugal – Pre-travel research and the Queen’s Funeral

We generally take our main annual holiday in September. Sometimes we go to the sea, usually the Greek Islands which are our favourite and sometimes we travel.  This year we decided to travel and we chose to go to Portugal.

There are organised guided tours available for this sort of thing but we prefer to make our own arrangements and not be restricted by a holiday company schedule and inevitable stops at shopping centres and outlet factories that suit the Company but not the Traveller.

Where exactly should we go this time we debated.  We had previously been to the Algarve in the South, Porto and the Douro and north of the Algarve to the Alentejo.  Eventually we agreed on the greater Lisbon area with stays in Obidos, Ericeira, Cascais,  Setúbal and the city of Lisbon itself.

In preparation for travel I carried out my usual research and used my favourite benchmarks to try and understand the country that I was visiting.

I started as usual with the Human Development Index which ranks countries by level of ‘human development’ and the statistic is composed amongst other criteria from data on life expectancy, education and per-capita gross national income. Portugal is ranked forty-first which is quite low, especially for Europe but it is improving and is up two places from the previous year.

Although it is in Western Europe (in fact it is the most western mainland European country) Portugal did not begin to catch up with its neighbours until 1968 after the death of the dictator António Salazar, the Left Wing Carnation Revolution of 1972 and eventual entry into the European Community in 1986.

Unhappily, the European economic crisis has had a negative effect on Portugal’s position in the Europe Happiness Index and it is rated at only fifteenth out of thirty which is one place behind the United Kingdom.  Finland is the happiest and Albania (no real surprise) the least jolly.

The Country has fifteen UNESCO World Heritage Sites and we had previously visited ten of them and intended to add to this total this time.

Portugal is famous for its Atlantic beaches which stretch for one thousand, one hundred and fifteen miles and along this coastline are three hundred Blue Flag Beaches which is the fifth highest amongst all participating countries but looking at the statistics in a different way they get even better and dividing length of coastline by number of beaches, Portugal is way out in front and storms into first place with one proud blue flag flapping away every three and three-quarter miles or so.

When it comes to wine,  screw caps have all but completely replaced the cork. Interestingly 35% of the World’s cork forests and 50% of World supply comes from Portugal so there, for the time being the cork stopper still reigns supreme.

My next measure is always the Eurovision Song Contest and Portugal has participated in the annual contest forty-nine times since its debut in the 1964.  Up until recently the country held the unfortunate record for the most appearances in the contest without a win but they put that right in 2017 when they won in Kiev with Salvador Sobral’s entry, “Amar Pelos Dois”.

In my research I have discovered some more impressive statistics: Portugal is ranked third in the Global Peace Index, just behind Iceland and New Zealand.  The index gauges global peace using three measures – the level of safety and security in society, the extent of domestic and international conflict and the degree of militarisation. Portugal for example was one of only a few European countries that escaped involvement in the Second-World-War, the others were Spain, Switzerland (only in theory of course because they did a lot of Nazi banking and gold trading), Sweden and The Republic of Ireland.

On the subject or war and peace, the Anglo-Portuguese Alliance (Aliança Inglesa) ratified at the Treaty of Windsor in 1386, between England and Portugal, is the oldest alliance in the world that is still in force – with an even earlier treaty dating back to the Anglo-Portuguese Treaty of 1373.  England and Portugal have never been on opposite sides in any military conflict which is a very impressive statistic when you consider that in that time England (UK) has at one time or another been at war at some time or another with almost every other European country.

It was the day of the Queen’s funeral the day that we flew out which was rather a shame as we would have liked to have watched it on TV.  The airport was unusual, solemn, subdued and rather eerie actually, much more polite than normal.  Shops and restaurants closed for the duration, big screens showing the ceremony without commentary or sound .  The two minutes silence almost completely observed except for one young man taking a phone call until obliged to end it quickly on account of the disapproval of those around him.

There was a one hour delay before departure which was not bad under the circumstances.

The plane landed at Humberto Delgardo Airport, named after a lliberal politician who challenged the dictator Salazar and was assassinated for his trouble.  I am always interested in the naming of airports.  Porto in Portugal is named after another politician, Francisco Sá Carneiro, who died in a plane crash and I have always thought that to be curiously inappropriate.

Thursday Doors, Portugal

Portugal Doors 1

If you like these doors from Portugal, there are a few more here…

Portugal, Doors

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favourite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

Portugal, The End of the Journey

Portugal 2017

So our travels were over.  We had not had a train journey holiday since 2013 in Puglia in the south of Italy so it was good to get back on the tracks!

We flew into Lisbon and spent four days in the capital city, it was oppressively hot but we enjoyed it all the same.

If I was to do anything different I would have visited Belém rather than Sintra.  Sintra is just too commercial and touristy.

After Lisbon we headed north out of the city to our next stop at the city of Tomar. Here is a top tip, buy train tickets in advance because at peak times it is a nightmare using the automated machines and you have to allow at least thirty minutes to shuffle tediously along the line.

Apart from the ticketing system the trains in Portugal are punctual and efficient and our planned itinerary was a complete success.

If you are planning travels through Portugal be sure not to miss out Tomar and maybe find some time for the nearby pilgrimage site of Fatima but that is a bit difficult without a car.

After Tomar the train took us to Coimbra, maybe the third largest city in Portugal or maybe not (Braga also makes this claim). A good place to visit, two or three days is just about right.

And then to the city of Ovar and the nearby seaside resort of Furadouro. Ovar is not really on the main tourist trail but it certainly gets my recommendation for a visit especially if you are lucky enough to bag a place on the Ceramic Trail Tour.

Kim in Portugal

Next to Portugal’s second city Porto which is a must visit city on a holiday such as this except that we had been there twice before so it felt as though we were just going over old ground. We wished instead that we had stayed in Aveiro as an alternative stopover.

If you are tempted to do this journey then be sure to do them both!

Leaving Porto we took the train to our final destination at Vila do Conde from where we hired a car and visited the cities of Guimarães and Braga, two more must visit places.

We had a wonderful time in Portugal and would certainly do it again.  Not my first visit and almost certainly not my last.  I went to the Algarve in 1986, 1987 and 1994 which is a long time ago so I really need to go back.  In 2009 I visited Northern Portugal and fell in love with the people, the towns, the beaches and the food.  If there is anything like a certainty in life then I will return to Portugal.

On the final morning we woke early and prepared to leave Vila do Conde.  We risked indigestion and snatched a hasty  breakfast and then made our way to the metro station for the final time and took the tram to the Airport.  Francisco de Sá Carneiro Airport is just outside of the city.  Interestingly, Francisco de Sá Carneiro was for a short time the Prime Minister of Portugal in 1980 and some people have questioned the appropriateness of naming an airport after someone who died in a plane crash!

Anyway, we didn’t concern ourselves with that, just wasted away the waiting time and reflected fondly on our very successful 2017 visit to Portugal.

Algarve

My next few posts will be a return to the island of Malta…

Portugal, Postcards

Portugal Tiles PostcardVila do Conde PostcardPORTUGAL lisbon 2014-04-30 001Coimbra PostcardFatima Portugal

If you like postcards of Portugal here are some more from the Algarve

Portugal, Recommendations

As a general rule I am happy to recommend anywhere in Portugal – not this public bench in Tomar however…

IMG_7852

Portugal, Doors

Portugal Doors 3Portugal Doors 2Portugal Doors 1

If you like the doors then you may be interested in some more from a post in July 2014…

Doors of Portugal

Portugal, Balconies

Furadouro BalconyBalcony PoemPorto Balcony 2Porto Balcony 1

Portugal, Tomar to Coimbra and the story of Fatima

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After a final breakfast at Conde de Ferreira Palace we checked our bags and documents, left and walked the short distance to the railway station and waited with a handful of other passengers for the train to Lisbon.

We weren’t going back to Lisbon of course but first had to go south to make a connection for a train to our next destination – Coimbra.

We were a little early but sat in the sun until departure time and then climbed on board and enjoyed the short journey to Lamarosa where we switched trains to Coimbra.

After a few stops we pulled into a station for the town and pilgrimage site of Fatima and I mention this here only because a few weeks earlier we had visited Ireland and been to the pilgrimage site of Knock which has a very similar story.

Greetings From Knock

In the spring and summer of 1916, nine-year-old Lúcia Santos and her cousins Jacinta and Francisco were herding sheep and later claimed that they were visited three times by an apparition of an angel. They said the angel, who identified himself as the “Angel of Peace” and “Angel of Portugal“, taught them prayers and to spend time in adoration of the Lord.

Then, beginning in the spring of 1917, the children reported more appearances of the angel and starting in May 1917, they cranked the story up to a new level to include apparitions of the Virgin Mary.

Fatima Children

These little children look trustworthy enough don’t you think, would they make up such a yarn?  If my children came home one evening with such an unlikely tale I would tell them not to make up ridiculous stories and to forget all about it or they wouldn’t get any supper.

I confess that I am rather sceptical about these stories, I think it is something that is mostly good for tourism and rather conveniently the two boys died soon after in the flu pandemic that swept across Europe after the First World War so could answer no further questions on the matter.  The Virgin Mary and her miracles were not much help to them were they!

Lúcia became a Nun and took a convenient vow of silence on the matter although she did write an account of three secrets and passed this to the Vatican for safe keeping.  All have now been revealed – a vision of Hell (not difficult with a good imagination) the end of the first World War followed by a second (revealed in 1941 so a bit of hindsight might have helped) and a vague warning about persecution of Christians.

The widely reported sightings were the catalyst then for the tiny village of Fátima to quickly become a major centre of Catholic pilgrimage. Two million people visited the site in the decade following the events of 1917.  In 1930 the Catholic Church officially recognised the apparition events as “worthy of belief” and granted a papal indulgence to pilgrims visiting Fátima.

Fátima today is the most visited Catholic Pilgrimage site in all of Europe, I’ll say that again – the most visited Catholic Pilgrimage site in all of Europe,  with even more visitors every year than the Vatican, Lourdes or Santiago de Compostela.   The most visited Catholic Pilgrimage site in the World is The Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine in Mexico City, where the Virgin Mary is believed to have appeared in the sixteenth century (yes, you’ve guessed it) to a poor peasant and estimates for annual visitation to the basilica run as high as twenty million, which is a figure getting close to the entire population of Australia.

The most religious country in Western Europe is Malta where in a survey in 2010 95% of the population said that they were practicing Catholics.  Nearby Italy (where the Pope lives) only managed 74%.   Portugal registered 72% and was fifth in the list. The least religious countries are all in the north where over 80% of respondents in Estonia, Norway, Denmark and Sweden all said that religion isn’t very important at all.

Interestingly this survey didn’t seem to include the Vatican State where I imagine the response would surely have been 100%.

Fatima Portugal

Today many thousands of Portuguese Catholics make the pilgrimage to Fátima. The German couple at breakfast in Tomar visited one day and reported that there were eight hundred buses in the coach park all bringing visitors to the sighting of the Virgin Mary.  Not all that surprising really because 2017 is the hundredth anniversary of the sighting, specifically the 13th October.

The Virgin Mary had promised a miracle for the last of her apparitions and on this date a huge crowd of possibly hundred thousand people turned up. What happened then became known as the “Miracle of the Sun”.

Knock Holy Shrine 02

Various claims have been made as to what actually occurred during the event. The three children who originally said that they saw Our Lady of Fátima reported seeing a panorama of visions including those of Jesus, Our Lady of Sorrows, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, and of Saint Joseph blessing the people.

According to accounts, after a period of rain, the dark clouds broke and the sun appeared as an opaque, spinning disc in the sky. It was said to cast multicolored lights across the landscape, the people, and the surrounding clouds. The sun was then reported to have careered towards the earth before making its way back to its normal position.

Could this be true, I don’t know. Maybe it was just an ordinary sunset.  I keep an open mind on the matter of  Marian Apparitions, does the Virgin Mary every now and again keep randomly appearing to people in remote towns and villages, maybe!

Anyway this being the hundredth anniversary of the miracle the pilgrimage town of Fátima was planning the Mother of all parties to celebrate.

Fatima 100 year anniversary

After Fátima the train passed through several more towns and villages before arriving in Coimbra where we took a taxi to the city centre IBIS hotel.

I hate taxis, I am a very nervous taxi passenger, I am petrified of the metre which seems to rack up charges at an alarming rate, faster than the acceleration of an Apollo rocket on its way to the moon and I spend any taxi journey fixated upon the clock.  I am almost as afraid of taxis as I am of dogs, but that is another story.

As it turned out, the journey cost less than €10 so I was panicking about nothing really and soon we had checked in, approved our room and were ready to visit the historical centre of Coimbra.

Coimbra Mosaic

* A Marian Apparition is a reported supernatural appearance by the Blessed Virgin Mary. The miracle is often named after the town where it is reported.

Portugal, Tomar and The Convento de Cristo

 

There was a steep path to be negotiated to get to the Convento and by midday it was really quite hot so it became quite uncomfortable just to get to the top of the hill.  Luckily it plateaued out by the time we got to the entrance and paid our €6 entrance fee and went inside.

This was becoming a perfect day and thanks to the distraction of the Festival we arrived later at the Convento than we had planned and this turned out to be a good thing because a lot of the coach tour parties were now gathering up their passengers and beginning to leave.  On the down side we just missed free entrance because we were a few minutes past one o’clock because before that it is free on a Sunday.

Convento de Cristo Tomar portugal

Tomar is one of the most historically important cities in all of Portugal with a history that stretches back to the Romans and probably even before that.   Fast forward a thousand years and after the capture of the region from the Moors in the Portuguese Reconquista, the land was granted in 1159 to the Order of the Knights Templar. In 1160, the Grand Master in Portugal, Gualdim Pais, laid the first stone of the Castle and Monastery that would become the headquarters of the Order in Portugal and from here they pledged to defend Portugal from any subsequent Moorish attacks and raids

The history is important so please bear with me here.  In 1314, under pressure from Pope Clement V, who wanted the Templars banned throughout Europe, the King of Portugal negotiated to transfer the possessions and personnel of the Order in Portugal to a newly created Order of Christ. In the 15th century by a compromise agreement the position of (cleric) Grand Master of the Order was nominated by the Pope, and the (lay) Master or Governor by the King.

Henry the Navigator (one of the most important people in Portuguese history) was made the Governor and he used the resources and knowledge of the Order to succeed in his enterprises in Africa and in the Atlantic. The cross of the Order of Christ was painted in the sails of the ships that crossed the seas and the Catholic missions in the new lands were under the authority of the Tomar clerics until 1514.

Fountain at Convento de Cristo Tomar

The Convento was a wonderful place to visit, so much better than the Palace at Sintra and at only two-thirds the price so much better value.  We spotted a coach tour party arriving so we started with the visit before we were overrun with tourist invaders.

And what a tour it was, through courtyards and grand rooms, all empty of course and I prefer it that way to places that are stuffed full of furniture and decorations.  Personally I prefer to see a place stripped bare rather than full of old tat.

Through corridors and chapels, great halls and kitchens, dormitories and medieval offices it was all completely wonderful, I could easily have gone through the place for a second time but I knew Kim wouldn’t like that so we left the Convento and made our way to the castle and climbed the walls and made a circuit of the complete site before returning to ground level and after a surprising three hours leaving again and making our way back down to the main square stopping on the way in a café for a drink.

convento de cristo 03

Here I reflected on the visit and I realise that it is easy to get carried away by the moment but I compared it to a visit to the Alhambra Palace in Granada a year ago and I concluded that this place was better.  If someone told me that I could visit only one of them ever again then I would choose the Convento de Cristo.

Eventually we arrived back in Praça da República and stopped for another beer.  We liked it, the weather was perfect and we were seamlessly adjusted to life outside of Lisbon, it had been a very good few days.  When we first arrived I worried about filling three days in Tomar but right now it really wouldn’t have bothered me if the trains went on strike and I had to stop for a fourth.

If you are planning a visit to central Portugal then you simply must stop over in Tomar.

As it happened I was becoming an expert now and I was confident in giving directions to Caminho Way walkers and giving restaurant recommendations to new guests at the Conde de Ferreira Palace. It was rather a shame to be leaving but eventually we left the square while Kim went back to the hotel I walked to the railway station to buy tickets for the next leg of our journey, this time to Coimbra.

Our preferred restaurant was closed tonight so we walked the small town looking for an alternative and eventually settled upon another local sort of place which was nowhere near as good but we enjoyed a good meal at a reasonable price before one last walk through Tomar and back to the hotel for suitcase packing.