Historic Centre of Santarem
Historic Centre of Santarem is part of the Tentative list of Portugal in order to qualify for inclusion in the World Heritage List.
Click here for a short description of the site, as delivered by the state party.
- ●● Tentative
The coordinates shown for all tentative sites were produced as a community effort. They are not official and may change on inscription.
Santarém has some nice monuments, especially in the gothic style (the city is often called the Portuguese Gothic capital), and there are beautiful sights over the Tagus River and its Lezíria, which is a huge area of plains stretching for dozens of kilometers alongside the river. However, I don't think that this city deserves to be inscribed in the World Heritage List. It's an interesting place to visit at a local level, but it's not a unique site in the world - not even in Portugal. The monuments are scattered everywhere and some of them are not very well preserved. It may be worth a detour to see some churches and have a short walk in some of the nice older streets, as well as in the Portas do Sol belvedere, but I think it's not worth to be considered a World Heritage site.
Probably the most disappointing tentative list site we have visited in our tour of Portugal! The strangest fact is that it seems that together with Marvao and Elvas it is/was the Portuguese site nearest to the nomination (http://www.ribatejo.com/ecos/santarem/mundial.html) (even if probably something, not surprisingly, got wrong with it - http://semanal.omirante.pt/index.asp?idEdicao=324&id=41007&idSeccao=4711&Action=noticia). In reality I hadn't expected much from Santarém and the visit confirmed my expectations. There are no more than 25 listed buildings (as you can see from the Tourist Office map, which also shows the boundaries of the historic centre, that probably correspond also with those of the tentative list site), some absolutely insignificant, some certainly interesting (above all the medieval churches), but not unique neither on an universal level, nor on a national level. In addition to this, it is really impossible to understand why Santarém is also on the tentative list as a natural site, as there is nothing natural there.
The city is easily accessible from the motorway A1 and you can park on a large avenue at the western end of the centre. From there we walked towards the main square, Sá Bandeira, on which overlooks the Cathedral, an imposing Baroque building, part of the Jesuitic seminary. Leaving the square from the north side there is the beautiful 19th century covered market, decorated with azulejos, the white and blue majolica decorations so typical for Portugal. Here I had a big surprise, realising that one of those azulejos was that one on the cover of my Italian guidebook of Portugal, representing some ships on the sea and a coastal village on the background. Nearby there are also two very strange Romanesque-Gothic churches: Saint Claire has a facade with a rose window but without a portal, whilst Saint Francis a facade with a portal but instead of the rose window a big rectangular hole. The latter was also quite ruined, like some other monuments, indicating that some of them are not maintained very well.
From what we had seen, it already seemed that the city hadn't been worth of a detour; however we decided to complete the visit, as usually. Apart from some fortified features, going southwards from the main square there are just another three interesting but not uncommon medieval churches: the Sao Joao de Alporao Church, the Marvila Church, with a manuelin portal and azulejos in the interior, and the Graca Church. The latter, with its imposing Gothic architecture, is probably the most noteworthy monument of the city, also because there is the quite simple tomb of the discoverer of Brazil, Pedro Cabral. In both the last churches there was a woman asking me information (for statistics) about my nationality and starring at me as if she was in front of an alien when I told her that I am Italian (maybe she had just caught the first foreign visitor of the year!!! and this clearly shows you how much touristy Santarém is!!!). This was the end of our visit also because we were too disappointed to go also to the Ribeira quarter, situated far below the hill of the historic centre, but situated within the boundaries of its protection zone; we just viewed it from the southernmost point of the walls, where once the Arab citadel stood.