– castle town with hidden charms
The county capital of Leiria has at its the centre the attractive Praça Rodrigues Lobo square which has café tables around its edge and the impressive 12th century Leiria Castle dominating the skyline above it.
Many of the narrow lanes around the square are cobbled and worth exploring with numerous restaurants and small, traditional shops. This is a good area for shopping for traditional crafts, particularly glass and ceramics from the nearby town of Marinha Grande, Portugal’s most important source of crystal glassware.
This historic centre is run down in parts but still appealing with its atmosphere and old-world charm. The nearby 12th century church of São Pedro and the Cathedral are fine architectural monuments, but even in the back streets there are arcades and archways that provide many opportunities for photographs.
The city surrounds the hilltop fortress of Leiria Castle which has been rebuilt many times over the centuries, mainly as a result of attacks from the Moorish forces who occupied the area of Portugal south of the city. The castle as it now stands is largely the result of a rebuild in the late 1800s under the supervision of Swiss architect Ernesto Korrodi who followed his own romantic vision of medieval architecture more closely than the archeological evidence. There are fantastic views from the top of the castle of the city and its rural outskirts.
Other buildings of architectural or historical note are the Igreja e Convento de São Francisco with its renaissance and baroque period details; the Santuário de Nossa Senhora da Encarnação, built in the sixteenth century on the ruins of the temple of São Gabriel; and the Convento de Santo Agostinho, the construction of which began in the late sixteenth century and wasn’t completed until the eighteenth century.
Of much more modern descent is another of the city’s impressive constructions, the municipal stadium at the foot of the castle which was built for the Euro 2004 football championship which was held in Portugal.
The river Lys runs through the centre of the city provides pleasant riverside walks, especially in the area of the central park, and opportunities for boating in the summer months. Away from the centre the city is no more remarkable than any other busy centre of commerce, although recent developments have brought some major new shopping centres and superstores.
For souvenir ideas the city is famous for its Louça da Bajouca, clear glazed plates with swirls of red and white through the centre, and the Sogras de Leiria, small circular pads of cloth that women used to protect themselves when carrying water jugs or baskets on their heads.
The Mosteiro de Batalha to the south of Leiria is the country’s greatest example of Gothic and Manueline archicture. It dates from the 14th Century and was built to commemorate Portugal’s victory over Spain at the battle of Aljubarrota. If you were to pick just one monument to see in Portugal it would be this one. Many regard it as the country’s ultimate achievement in art and architecture.
A shrine to the miracles of almost a century ago when a vision of the Virgin Mary appeared to three young children tending sheep on a hillside. The series of miracles that followed have made this one of the most important centres of pilgrimage in the Catholic faith.
A charming medieval town with a rich historical legacy including a 15th century castle and the impressive tomb of Afonso, grandson of General Nuno Alves Pereira who is regarded as the saviour of Portugal for beating the Spanish in the Battle of Aljubarrota.
The forests run along a coastline of sandy beaches that include the popular holiday resort of São Pedro de Muel and, further south, the town of Nazaré that was transformed from a sleepy fishing village to a sought after holiday destination when the upper classes discovered the new fashion of bathing at the start of the last century.
Stretching from Leiria to the coast is Pinhal do Rei, a vast pine forest planted by Dom Dinis in the 11th century to control the wind-driven erosion of the sandy coastal regions and to provide a supply of high quality timber for the building of ships. Wood from here was used to build the boats that undertook the voyages of discovery that changed the course of the country’s fortunes and history.