Only an exceptional event could transform Fátima, a small village in the countryside of Extremadura with no particular attraction, into a tourist destination capable of attracting more than six million visitors every year.
The event we are talking about is, of course, the famous apparition of the Virgin Mary in Fatima in 1917.
A century later, pilgrims from all over the world continue to come here to pay homage or ask for graces from the Holy Mother of God, making Fatima one of the most important pilgrimage destinations in the world.
The tourism industry has taken advantage of this great opportunity, developing a series of accommodation facilities designed to accommodate hundreds of pilgrims, as well as a long line of dubious souvenir shops such as Madonnas and glow-in-the-dark busts of the Pope.
In spite of itself, Fatima has become both the realm of the sacred and of kitsch. Follow your own inclination: listen to religious sentiments or indulge in the earthly pleasures of shopping.
Fatima would be an anonymous country city if it wasn’t for the Marian apparitions. The history has changed and today the Sanctuary of Fatima has become an unmissable stop on a tour around Central Portugal.
The Sanctuary includes several buildings, temples, and religious monuments within a complex named Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary and the Basilica of the Holy Trinity. Nearby there is the Chapel of the Apparitions, which symbolizes the apparition of the Holy Mary in front of the shepherds.
The Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary, the most central and majestic buildings of the Sanctuary of Fatima, consists of a 65 meters high tower decorated by a 7000 kg bronze crown.
It was designed by the Dutch architect Gerardus Samuel van Krieken, who arrived to Porto towards the end of 1800 in order to teach art. He passed away before the consecration of the building.
Inside the basilica, over the main portico, there is a mosaic representing the Holy Trinity crowning Mary, which was blessed by Pope Pious XII, who was named the Pope of Fatima.
Several events related to the Marian apparitions of Fatima are depicted in the stained glass windows in the basilica, while the 15 altars are dedicated to the 15 mysteries of the rosary. At the four corners of the basilica there are the statues of the four great apostles of the Rosary: Saint Anthony Mary Claret, Saint Dominic, Saint John Eudes, and Saint Stephen, King of Hungary.
The Basilica of the Holy Trinity is a church and a minor basilica built inside the Sanctuary of Fatima. It was consecrated in 1953, but it was clear since the beginning that its size was too small to host the huge flow of pilgrims coming to Fatima to honor the Lady.
For this reason, in 1974 Monsignor Luciano Guerra proposed the construction of a new basilica. Works only began in 2004, when the Greek architect Alexandros Tombazis completed the project.
Since the end of construction works the Basilica of the Holy Trinity was designed as a GECA, which in the Portuguese language means Grande Espaço Coberto para Assembleias (Great Covered Space for Assemblies), due to its majesty and its importance. Its modernist architecture is very peculiar, contrasting with the classical style of other churches around the area. For this reason it represents one of the most interesting monuments to see inside the Sanctuary of Fatima.
The Chapel of the Apparitions was built in 1920 at the exact location where the three shepherds have witnessed the apparition of the Holy Mary in 1917. According to the history, it was the Virgin to ask them to build a chapel in her honor.
Construction works were started by Joaquim Barbeiro in 1912 and the first mass was celebrated only two years later. On March 6th 1922, some anticlericals put a bomb inside the church; in spite of what happened the local community didn’t demoralize, and reconstruction works began a few months after the explosion.
Today the Chapel of Apparitions is the most important site of the Sanctuary of Fatima and it is visited by at least 5 million pilgrims every year.
The Valinhos correspond to the road that Lúcia, Jacinta and Francisco followed from their homes in Aljustrel to Cova da Iria to graze their flocks. Two Marian apparitions took place here and they have now been transformed into a station on the Fatima Way of the Cross. It is a perfect place for prayer and introspection.
In the following map you can see the location of the main places of interest mentioned in this article
The busiest days in Fatima are 13th May, the anniversary of the first apparition, and 13th October, the anniversary of the fifth and last apparition. Many pilgrims come to Fatima on foot, so they are already in Portugal in the days and weeks before the commemorations.
If you want a quieter visit, with fewer crowds, avoid the dates of the commemorations and the days immediately before or after.
There are several accommodations in Fatima, around the Sanctuary: mainly hotels, but also flats and B&Bs for every need, from 5 star hotels with spa to budget accommodations.
Religious tourists can reach Fatima from Lisbon by following the Caminho do Tejo, a walking path along country roads where there is very little traffic. The pilgrimage lasts about 5 days by walking an average of 20-30 km per day.
A much easier solution consists of taking one of the numerous buses living from Lisbon; it is possible to reach Fatima within one hour and a half. The sanctuary is located within walking distance from the bus station.
Another opportunity is to rent a car.
If you don’t want to visit the sanctuary on your own you can join a guided tour from Lisbon; choose the one you prefer.
What's the weather at Fatima? Below are the temperatures and the weather forecast at Fatima for the next few days.
The history is well known. Two Portuguese little girls and a little boy were herding sheep and reported witnessing a big cloud in the sky from where appeared a woman dressed with white colors holding a rosary. The woman, who was identified as the Holy Lady, spoke to one of the girls.
It was the 13th of May of 1917 and the appearance took place in Cova da Iria, Fatima. The woman told them to return on the 13th of every month until October. During the last appearance, a crowd of more than 70000 people witnessed the so called “miracle of the sun”; on a rainy day the clouds broke and the sun appeared as a spinning disc throwing rays to the earth.
It was only in 1930 that the Bishop of Leiria recognized the visions of the three shepherds and the worship of the Lady of Fatima became official.
Pope John II was the greatest devout to Nossa Senhora de Fátima as well as its unintentional touristic promoter; he visited the Sanctuary on numerous occasions, including the famous visit of 1982 when he thanked the Lady for surviving his attempted assassination the previous year. It was Pope John II himself who asked to add the bullet to the crown of the statue of the Holy Lady.
In 2000 John Paul II announced the beatification of the three shepherds who were recognized as the authors of a miraculous care.
Despite there are still many mysteries connected to the marian apparitions and scientists are still skeptical about this topic, the belief is very much alive and the tourism around this area is always increasing.