Fatima, a small town to the north of Lisbon is said to be the place where the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to three shepherd children. Being a Catholic, this was definitely one of the places that we wanted to visit while we were in Portugal. If even you are a non Catholic, this quaint little town is worth a visit. Alternately, you could visit another town or continue your tour of Lisbon.
We reached Fatima around 10.30 am and soon made our way to the shrine which was 5-minutes away. A beautiful little place with plenty of trees and barely any vehicles. You could sense that peaceful feeling in the air. Most of the sites are in close proximity to each other, except the houses of the three shepherd children. The first place we visited was the Sanctuary of Fatima. This neoclassical basilica had a slender central spire that rose up high and was truly a magnificent sight. Unfortunately, we couldn't go inside since it was closed. But we did manage to visit the tombs of the three shepherd children - Lucia Santos and Jacinta & Franciso Marto that were behind the shrine.
There are 3 ways to get here : by train, by coach or by car (which is obviously the most expensive way). You can catch the train from Lisbon's Gare Oriente and get down at Fatima Station. The main sites are about 20km away from the station so you will have to take a bus or a car to get there. We opted to travel by the most convenient and cost effective way, that's by coach. It is a comfortable 90 minute journey in their state- of- the- art buses. Some of the buses are also equipped with wi-fi. If you book online, you can choose your preferred time and seat http://www.rede-expressos.pt/.
We then visited the Chapel of Apparitions where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared. We were fortunate to attend an English mass in the open air chapel.
On the opposite end of the sanctuary stood a more modern church known as Church of the Most Holy Trinity. It was built to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the apparitions. And just nearby, was a high cross that glistened under the sunlight.
Many pilgrims perform the stations of the Cross and even go kneeling from one end to another. We left this area soon after, rented a car and headed towards Aljustrel where more apparitions are said to have taken place. While we we there, we visited to shepherd children's homes.
On our war back to the station, I couldn't help by notice the statues around this area. Everything was related to the Blessed Virgin Mary appearing to the three children, even the roundabouts. Many people choose to stay for a day or two, however we headed back to Lisbon city.
Once we reached Lisbon, we took a tram to Belem to visit three more attractions : Jeronimos Monastery, Torre de Belem and Padro dos Descobrimentos. This area of Lisbon is said to have the largest number of heritage sites and monuments connected to Portuguese voyages of discovery. Our first stop was Jeronimos Monastery. From the outside, it appeared to be massively magnificent structure probably even too big to fit into my camera! Inside lay the tomb of Vasco da Gama and some pretty impressive paintings dating back to the 1500's. We visited the church but not the cloister.
On the riverfront stood the Padro dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries). What impressed me most was the detailing on the monument. A fitting tribute to the explorers! The entire area itself was so beautiful. Even the long 25 de Abril bridge beside it.You could just sit down in one of those nearby cafes and simply admire.
Also in Belem, is the Torre de Belem or the Belem Tower. This iconic landmark was built in the 16th century and is a UNESCO heritage site. You can also go inside and visit the top. However, we just saw it from the outside.
Do not leave Belem without trying out the pastel de Nata (egg tart) at the popular Pasteis de Belem. I regret not having it here because of the long queue. But I heard it moves quickly. They were the pioneers of this sweet and the cafe dates back to 1837.
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