Ourém is situated about 10 km north-east of the famous pilgrimage site Fátima, where the Virgin Mary allegedly appeared to three shepherd children in 1917. The picturesque old town of Ourém, still surrounded by a city wall, is mainly known for its well-preserved castle. Numerous sites in the vicinity bear witness to the strong religious beliefs of the local citizens: the Mosteiro de Santa Maria de Vitória near Batalha is a magnificent convent built during the transition from Gothic to Renaissance. The 12th century Cistercian monastery at Alcobaca, one of the most important medieval monasteries in Portugal, was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1989. Much of the surrounding farmland was first cleared on order of the powerful Abbot, who controlled most of the region. A winding road leads to the mighty castle that once housed the Knights of Christ, who fought the Moors and led the earliest expeditions to West Africa.
A crusader castle near Tomar
This crusader castle towers high over Tomar and dominates the townscape. Here, the crusaders built a combined castle and monastery, which was passed on to the Order of Christ in the year 1312. This order saw its heyday at the start of the Portuguese Colonial Period and even financed voyages of exploration to Africa and India. In exchange, the order received lands abroad. By the end of the 15th century, it had moved its headquarters to Tomar and had become the most wealthy religious order in the Christian West.
Millions of pilgrims with many hoping to be healed
This city was named after a Moorish princess and, after the alleged appearance of the Virgin Mary on May 13, 1917, it became one of the most important pilgrimage sites of the Roman Catholic Church. Today, four million pilgrims visit the town each year, including many sick people hoping to be miraculously healed. Across from the old cathedral, the new church of Igreja da Santissima Trindade opened its doors for the first time in 2007. With its 9,000 seats, it is the fourth-largest Catholic church in the world and is currently the largest church to have been built in the 21st century. Between the two churches lies the largest church courtyard in the world.
Highlight of the Portuguese Gothic period
The Mosteiro de Santa Maria de Vitória near Batalha is a magnificent monastery dating from the transition period from Gothic to Renaissance. It was built in thanks for Portugal's victory over the kingdom of Castile; its construction took 150 years. Today, the gem of Portuguese Gothic is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.