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Torre do Cabaceiro
Torre do Cabaceiro

| Historical background | | Urban Morphology| |Santarém and the River |
Settlements on the River Banks |


Historical background   Santarém has 3 000 years of History embedded in its hills.

The town has had various names through the ages, such as: Scallabis, when it was founded, Presidium Julium, under the Roman domination, Sancta Irene (or Iria), with Receswinto and the Visigoths, Shantarin, during the Muslim occupation, finally becoming Santarém, following the reconquest of the town by the Portuguese. But it has always, however, maintained its prominence and strategic importance, both in the period in which the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern influences were predominant (1st - 13th Centuries) and when it came under Atlantic influences (14th - 19th Centuries).

The town's importance can be seen from the fact that it became an administrative centre of one of the provinces of Roman Hispania (Conventus Escalabitanus), a trading post of the Phoenicians, one of the most flourishing cities of the Muslim al-Andaluz, the burial site of Santa Iria, the martyr of Nabância (today Tomar), and finally one of the main centres of the medieval Kingdom of Portugal, when it adquired the title of "forever Noble and Loyal".

During the 16th Century, great figures of the Nautical Sciences, Arts and Letters such as Pedro Álvares Cabral (discoverer of Brazil), Luis de Camões (Lyrical Poet), Fernão Lopes Castanheda (Historian of the Discoveries), Martim Afonso de Melo (1st European that arrived in China by sea) were closely linked to Santarém.

Santarém was involved in some of the most important events in Portuguese History in the 19th Century. It was one of the main stages for the Peninsula wars (it was the headquarters of the III French Invasions led by General Massena) and was besieged by the Duke of Wellington in 1810-11, the event being related in "Santarém or Sketches of manners and customs in the interior of Portugal", the narrative of the travels of a Scottish doctor and British army officer, John Gordon Smith. The town was also in the forefront of the Liberal struggles. Sá da Bandeira (Statesman and Military), Passos Manuel (Statesman and Military) and Braamcamp Freire (Politician) being leading liberals that were either born in or linked to Santarém.

The strong support given by the people of Santarém to the Liberation Movement of 25th April 1974, led by the troops of Captain Salgueiro Maia, that restored democracy to Portugal must be mentioned.

Due to its role in History, Santarém is, in the words of Almeida Garrett, "a stone book in which the most interesting and most poetic of our chronicles is written". This is why the town of Santarém is at this moment preparing its candidature to be considered World Heritage.


Urban Morphology   The Historical Centre of Santarém is one of the largest ancient nuclei in Portugal, occupying an area of 1,42 Km2, almost all of which is built-up urban area. Within its perimeter, the city took shape with the juxtaposing of private buildings and green spaces with the different urban structures and buildings and their façades.

This nuclei occupies a well-defined topographical location, with its urban area laid out according to a polynuclear logic which is characterised by a functional articulation between the upper and lower parts of tha city and by the building of several nuclei in places where geological stability offers greater security. The urban structure, however, is coherent and forms a historical, aesthetic and landscape unity.

Santarém's urban morphology follows a linear and organic urban growth that is a witness to the different peoples that have occupied the city throughout its three thousand years of history.

From Roman times is the perpendicular layout of the city's two main arteries and the rectilinear structure of the secondary roads of the Bairro do Pereiro, probably a vestige of the cardus and the decumanus.

The urban influence of the Muslims can be seen both in the subsoil and in some sinuous streets, alleys and interior patios, spaces of urban "decompression" where the public and the private rub shoulders with no defined barriers.

The squares, in turn, are a Christian legacy, being the nerve centres of the city, evoking the realities of both the Medieval and Modern city, as they are the meeting point of people, goods and beliefs, places where both national and local political, economic, social and religious meetings are held.

The stairways (also dating from this period) that can be seen everywhere in the Historical Centre testify to the need the citizens had to overcome the fact that the city was built at different levels.

The urban structure of Santarém is complemented by the variety and quality of the aesthetic beauty of its façades and the originality of balconies, roofs, doors, windows and the unparalleled glazed tiles lining walls.


Santarém and the River   Before road and rail networks criss-crossed the virgin lands of our country, the rivers, especially the ones that were easily navigable, were the main means of communications and the union of two styles of life that have always characterised our nation - the agricultural interior and the coast.

Seen in this perspective, it is easy to understand the importance the River Tejo had for Santarém. Its great length and easy navigability were crucial to the foundation and development of the city as it was the most important outlet to the sea from the middle reaches of the Tejo for the Romans, Muslims and Christians. When Lisboa became the capital of the Kingdom (16th Century) and adquired greater economic prominence, the riverside comunities of Santarém enjoyed rapid growth, living in perfect communion with the Tejo and its vast resources.

The river played a crucial role in the economic and social development of the city from the very beginning. The wealth of the Tejo, which was frequently mentioned by classical authors, led to the growth of the socio-professional groups, such as fishermen, rope makers, boatmen and coopers, that exploited it and the appearance of riverside and port quarters. Salt, sea fish and fabrics were transported to the fluvial ports upstream, while manufactured goods, minerals, agricultural products (timber, wine, cereals, honey and beeswax) and river fish (shad, flounder, lamprey) went downstream to the capital in an unending stream of vessels.

The political, military and cultural relationships between Santarém and the Tejo were no less important.

During their journeys around the country in the exercise of the rule, the monarchs and their respective retinues chose the boat as their chief means of transport and the Tejo was their main artery. Up to the 16th Century, Santarém was one of the most favoured destinations of the Corte during its frequent journeys, which demonstrates the political role played by the riverside city. Beside this, the Tejo, being the longest river of the Iberian Peninsula, played a leading role in Luso-Spanish political relations, especially during the Philippine dynasty (1580-1640), when the two kingdoms were united under one crown.

A large part of the material and human logistic support that supplied the means for the Portuguese Discoveries and Overseas Expansi
on reached Lisboa, from Santarém, by way of the Tejo. A considerable number of merchants, nobles, clergymen, poets, troubadours, slaves and adventurers from all over the world also found their way to Santarém.


Settlements on the River Banks   Whoever looks over Santarém can easily notice that the city is made up of two distinct areas: the upper zone, laid out on the higher ground that rises from the river, and the riverside zone, which stretch along the (Northern and Southern) banks of the Tejo. It is the relationship between these two different urban structures that gives this city of the Ribatejo its special character.

The upper zone was settled by agro-pastoral communities, probably in the chalcolithic period, and soon acquired a strategic military importance, which was confirmed with the Roman oppidum and the Muslim (Alcáçova) Alcazar. The lower zone became a gateway for people from the Mediterranean, the Middle East and the Atlantic. It is an area par excellence for fishing, trade and industry, has always lived hand in hand with the river and affords protection to the city.

It is in the riverside area that two urban nuclei, Alfange and Ribeira, were founded, their foundation being a part of the Graeco-Roman and Christian mythology of the city. They were formely connected to the upper part of the city by a complex road network and a vast system of fortifications.

Historiographic tradition links the origin of Alfange to Abidis, a mythological descendant of Ulysses, who founded Scallabis on this spot, an important settlement in the middle reaches of the Tejo, seat of local royalty and possessing certain topographic similarities with Rome, such as seven hills. It is known, however, that Alfange enjoyed considerable importance up to the 14th Century, as the river bank was divided into three "Freguesias" (parishes) whose antiquity has been proved. From a primitive fluvial port, Alfange grew into a flourishing fishing community, whose resources were sufficient to found the parish Church of São Pedro, "O Novo", also known as the Church of the Pescadores (Fishermen). It lost its momentum in the 16th Century, however, and fell into a rut of irreversible stagnation.

The name of Santarém, in the meantime, originated in Ribeira, as it was here that Santa Iria (Saint Irene) (7th - 8th Century) was buried. The name of this virgin of Christian martyrology was invoked to give the city its present name as a replacement for the former Scallabis. A bourgeois and industrial river bank, Ribeira started to grow in the 14th Century, when the increase in fluvial and land traffic made it a nerve centre of the city's economy and a crucial crossroads in the country's communications. The royal Lisboa-Golegã road passed through Ribeira and boats sailing between Abrantes and the capital docked in its port. Its economic growth and the expansion of its river and seaborne trade led the river bank to attain a certain independence in relation to the city itself, leading it to have its own centre of power and organisation.

The urban layout stretching over the hills that rise from the river bank, which was already defined by the 13th Century, gives the city its sui generis personality and any policy regarding its heritage must take its Genius Loci into account.

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