Fatima, the Portuguese city of miracles, is one of the three most important sites for Catholics in Europe, right after the Vatican and the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes, in France. From a small parish founded in the 16th century, it became famous in 1916, after the virgin Mary appeared there to three shepherd children - Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta, while they were playing. In 2016 alone, during the celebrations of 100 years of the Apparition, over 5 million people visited Fatima. Every other year around 4 million people visit Fatima, of which many come on May 13th, on the anniversary of the sighting. There is a story saying the city got its name after the Moorish princess Fatima that was kidnapped by a Portuguese knight, Gonçalo Hermigues. According to one version, she fell in love with Gonçalo and changed her religion from Islam to Christianity, while another story says she was forced to do so.
Fatima today is a city of about 10.000 inhabitants, 15 chapels and basilicas and one large square where the most important celebrations take place. At both ends of the square, there is a basilica. An old one featuring neo-baroque architecture - Basilica de Nossa Senhora do Rosario de Fatima that represents the spot of the Apparition and was built only a decade after the holy event, and another, impressive and modern Basilica da Santissima Trindade (Holy Trinity). Although the design of the latter one is very simple, it clearly expresses its religiosity. Besides these two, there are numerous Apparition related sites to visit, such as the wax museum, the houses of the three shepherds and the Museum of Christ's life, among others.
Although Portugal is a very liberal country when it comes to, for example, gay rights and drugs use, at the same time, it is a catholic country, where 84% of its inhabitants have been baptized as Catholics. Even though there's no official religion in the country, people consider a wedding in a church more important than the civil ceremony, they baptize their children, and around 20% of the population regularly attends mass.
Visits to Fatima can be arranged as an organized day tour from Porto or Lisboa, but the city can also be easily visited independently. Buses are running daily to Fatima from most of the cities in Portugal. When it comes to accommodation, it is not an issue as there is a lot of offer. However, booking well in advance is strongly recommended if traveling on the Anniversary. Around those days nearly everyone rents a spare room and the prices get much higher.
Even though it is clearly a Catholic hub, I recommend a visit to Fatima to anyone with a day to spare, regardless of their beliefs. It is a part of the deep culture of Portugal and knowing the country itself would not be complete without paying a visit to its holiest place - the city of Miracle.
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