Fátima is a popular destination for both religious pilgrims and tourists alike. Located in Central Portugal, just 120 km north of Lisbon, it is also one of the most visited sites in Portugal!
The history of Fátima Portugal
Most visitors to Fátima are Catholics. After all, this region of Portugal is deeply connected with religion and is one of the world's most famous Marian apparition sites.
The spotlight on Fatima began on May 13, 1917, when three children, Lucia dos Santos (age 10) and her cousins Francisco Marto (age 9) and Jacinta Marto (age 7), claimed to have seen "a lady brighter than the sun" on a holm oak tree while pasturing a small flock in Cova da Iria, near the small rural village of Aljustrel.
The three children claimed to have seen the Blessed Virgin Mary in six apparitions, between 13 May and 13 October 1917, and shared several prophecies that caught both public and religious authorities' attention.
The children said the Virgin Mary told them prayer would end World War I, as well as other politically motivated messages involving Russia. They also said that on October 13 of that year, the Virgin Mary would perform a miracle "so that all may believe". Newspapers reported the prophecies and during the following months, thousands of pilgrims flocked to Fátima, drawn by reports of visions and miracles.
However, not all those who heard about the apparitions believed them. The children's accounts became deeply controversial, drawing intense criticism from both local and religious authorities.
On 13 August 1917, provincial administrator Artur Santos intervened, as he believed these events were politically disruptive to Portugal, which was a highly conservative country at that time. He took the children into custody, jailing them before they could reach Cova da Iria on what was expected to be another day for apparitions.
Santos interrogated and threatened the children, hoping to force them to share the contents of the secrets they claimed to hold. Lúcia's mother also hoped the officials could persuade the children to end the affair and admit they had lied. They did not and were eventually released. That month, instead of the usual apparition on the 13th, the children reported they saw the Virgin Mary on 19 August, at the nearby village of Valinhos.
The most documented apparition was the last, which occurred on October 13, 1917. After newspapers reported the Virgin Mary had promised a miracle for the last of her apparitions on 13 October, a huge crowd, including reporters and photographers, gathered at Cova da Iria to witness what would become known as "The Miracle of the Sun".
Various claims were made about what happened during that day. The three children reported seeing a panorama of visions, while other people present declared witnessing a "miracle". According to different accounts, after a period of rain, the dark clouds broke and the sun appeared as an opaque, spinning disc in the sky, casting multicoloured lights across the landscape and the surrounding clouds. Some witnesses reported their previously wet clothes became "suddenly and completely dry, as well as the wet and muddy ground which was previously soaked".
However, not all witnesses reported seeing the sun "dance". Some people only saw the radiant colours. Others, including some believers, saw nothing at all.
The only known picture of the sun taken during the event does not show anything unusual, nor where any unusual phenomenon of the sun observed by scientists at the time. Sceptics have offered alternative explanations, including psychological suggestibility of the witnesses, temporary retinal distortion caused by staring at the intense light of the sun and optical effects caused by natural meteorological phenomena.
Regardless of the doubts that have persisted over the past century, Fátima's fame has grown internationally, with pilgrimages to the site taking place all year round. Especially between May and October, on the thirteenth day of each month.
On the anniversaries of the apparitions, millions of pilgrims visit Fatima to pray or witness the beautiful procession of Our Lady of Fátima, both during the day and by the light of tens of thousands of candles on the night of the 12th.
Some pilgrims even reschedule their lives to journey to Fátima on foot, especially before and after the 13th between May and October. A Catholic tradition that is still very much present to this day… If you’re driving around the region during the height of the celebratory processions, you will see hundreds of pilgrims walking there.
Although not all Catholics believe in these apparitions, they are acknowledged by the Portuguese Catholic Church and the Vatican. The Sanctuary that evokes the memories of the apparitions has been awarded three papal golden roses and visited by Popes Paul VI (1967), John Paul II (1982, 1991 and 2000), Benedict XVI (2010) and Francis (2017). Pope Francis canonized two of the visionaries, Francisco and Jacinta Marto, on 13 May 2017 during the centennial of the first apparition.
Lúcia, the eldest child visionary and the only one to survive into adulthood (she died in 2005, at the age of 97), may also be considered a Saint in the future, as the process of canonisation is currently underway.
Today, Fatima is one of the most important Marian sanctuaries in the world and a major international destination for religious tourism, receiving six million visitors a year.
What to see in Fátima Portugal
There is a lot to see in Fátima Portugal. And while most things are related to religion, there are other things you can see and visit.
1. Visit the Sanctuary of Fátima
Regardless of whether you are a pilgrim or visiting Fátima for leisure, exploring the Sanctuary is always an unforgettable experience.
The construction of the Sanctuary of Fatima began in 1919 with the first Capelinha das Aparições (Chapel of the Apparitions), built on the spot where the three children claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary for the first time.
While it has been rebuilt since then, the Capelinha das Aparições is still considered a sacred location for those who believe and is one of Fátima's main attractions.
At the centre of the chapel, the statue of Our Lady of Fatima has encased in its crown one of the bullets that struck Pope John Paul II in1981.
Pope John Paul II credited Our Lady of Fátima with saving his life following an assassination attempt on May 13,1981.
On the bank of lit candles to the left of the chapel, dozens of pilgrims queue every day to place a candle, fulfilling promises in a tradition deeply rooted in ancient Catholic customs.
At the end of the Sanctuary's huge plaza, you will find the most iconic building in the shrine, the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary of Fatima (Basílica de Nossa Senhora do Rosário). Its construction began in 1928.
One of the things you will notice while visiting Fátima's main basilica is the peacefulness inside the church. A place for meditation and prayer, where you can also visit the tombs of Francisco and Jacinta.
Over the years, the Sanctuary has been expanded to increase its capacity to receive pilgrims indoors. The most recent building, the Basilica of the Holy Trinity, was inaugurated on October 12, 2007 by the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, on the occasion of the 90th anniversary of the apparitions. It has an impressive 8,633 seats and an area of 40,000 m².
Other popular locations inside the Sanctuary include the “Cruz Alta” (High Cross), a 34 metres high steel sculptural work by Robert Schad, statues of the Popes John Paul II and Pius XII, and of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. There are also several smaller chapels that are worthy of a visit.
What to do in Fátima outside the sanctuary
Outside the Santuary, you will find several quaint shops that sell religious items, as well as traditional Portuguese handicrafts.
While many assume that visiting Fatima is all about chapels and basilicas, the truth is that this region has a lot more to offer.
Surrounded by sleepy villages with traditional stone houses and an amazing natural park, there is much more to see and do in Fatima if you want to extend your visit.
Some of the most popular attractions around Fátima include:
The homes of Jacinta and Francisco Marto & of Lúcia
If you are looking to enjoy the entire experience Fátima has to offer, you will want to visit the homes of the shepherd children who witnessed the apparitions. Namely the house of Francisco and Jacinta, who died shortly after the apparitions in the international flu pandemic (Francisco died at home on April 4, 1919, at the age of 10; Jacinta died at the age of nine in Dona Estefânia's children's hospital in Lisbon, on February 20, 1920).
The visit will allow you to understand how Portugal’s rural population lived at the beginning of the 20th century.
The homes are now a museum, in a village called Aljustrel, just 2 km from the sanctuary. The street leading to the children's houses has been transformed into a Via Crucis, with various chapels representing the Passion of Christ.
Wax Museum in Fátima
Fátima’s Wax Museum presents various wax figures and scenes that retell the story of Our Lady of Fatima, reproduced in three-dimensional figures, carefully created to keep the images faithful to reality. The Wax Museum is located outside the courtyard of the Sanctuary of Fatima.
Museu do Santuário de Fátima
Created in 1955, the Fátima Sanctuary Museum preserves the shrine's sacred art collection.
It has objects offered by pilgrims, historical, artistic and ethnographic documents and testimonies of pilgrimages.
Other popular attractions nearby include:
Sensory Ecopark of Pia do Urso - Located just 8 km south of Fatima, Pia do Urso Ecopark offers visitors a stunning natural landscape in the middle of an Eco Park, with several traditional stone houses that were recently recovered. The sensorial park offers an amazing experience, especially for the blind, with several panels in Braille explaining each station.
Dinosaur Footprints of Serra de Aire (Pegadas dos Dinossáurios da Serra de Aire) - This natural monument, just 11 km from the Sanctuary of Fatima, is part of the Serras de Aire and Candeeiros Natural Park, occupying 20 hectares. Here you will find an entertainment area, an Environmental Entertainment Centre, a picnic park, a large panel illustrating the evolution of life on Earth through geological time, as well as several information panels along the 1000 metres of the trail. The 20 existing trails are the largest and oldest sauropod trails known (175 million years old) and also one of the best preserved, with more than 1000 dinosaur footprints.
Ourem Castle - Located 12 km from Fatima, the Castle of Ourém is also worthy of a visit. It is considered one of the most innovative works of military architecture of 15th century Portugal.
Moinhos Velhos Cave - “Gruta dos Moinhos Velhos” is another amazing place to visit near Fatima that has no connection to religion. Here, you will need to walk underground to see the amazing rock formations, illuminated by colourful lights that are breathtaking. The Moinhos Velhos Cave is part of a larger network of galleries, more than 11 km long, and together with the Pena Cave and the Contenda Cave, is one of the most important underground systems of the Estremadura Limestone Massif. Other popular caves nearby include the caves of Moeda, Alvados and Mira de Aire (where there is also a water park on site!).
Read more about places to visit in Portugal HERE.