Leiria, beautifully located by the Lis River, is a city full of curiosities. So many stories and secrets to unveil !
A bell tower without a Cathedral and a Cathedral without a bell tower
Among the main curious facts about Leiria, the Cathedral is certainly one of them. It is actually the only Cathedral in the country, whose bell tower is detached from the building, in another part of the city.
Legend has it that there was a bell tower in the Cathedral of Leiria, however the inhabitants who lived on the other side of the city could not hear the bells tolling for prayer. This is why in 1770 the Bishop D. Miguel Bulhões e Sousa ordered the construction of another bell tower on the slope of the castle, that is to say, detached from the Cathedral.
Built in 1559, the Cathedral of Leiria is a beautiful sober Mannerist building, as well as one of Portugal’s finest example of hall churches (Hallenkirchen), along with the Monastery of Alcobaça and Jeronimus Monastery in Lisbon. One of the most interesting facts about the Cathedral of Leiria is the role played by the woman in the Gospels, since there is a representation of the coronation of the Virgin Mary in the altarpiece of the main altar.
Crows, Gothic tribes and secret passages
The eye-catching Castle of Leiria, built in Roman and Gothic styles, is the greatest icon of the city, as well as the perfect stage of the Gothic festival Entremuralhas that takes place every year in the end of August, attracting black-clad tribes with extravagant make-up and slim-waist ladies with coffin purses.
There is something quite unique about the Castle of Leiria, some sort of mysterious aura. A strategical place that has witnessed many historical fights between the first King of Portugal, D. Afonso Henriques, and the Moors, with secret passages and flying crows, announcing upcoming victories. This is why Leiria's coat of arms presents two crows.
After 3 years of renovation works, the iconic Castle of Leiria has reopened its doors to the public. The Castle of Leiria is now more accessible to visitors, offering three lifts, as well as a new amphitheatre and several relaxing areas. Local botanical species were placed in order to substitute other species that endangered the structure of the castle.
Quite remarkable is also the renovation of several indoor structures of this stunning monument, such as the ticket office, the medieval tanks and Pena Church that is now covered.
A River that flows to the north
The Lis River is a key element to understand the identity of Leiria and its inhabitants. Unlike other rivers, the Lis flows to the North and as it nears the sea, it flows west. This 40 km-long watercourse has inspired many writers and poets along the centuries.
By the river Lis, there is a pleasant area, ideal for biking and walking. In this area you can visit two amazing museums: Museum of Leiria and the Paper Mill Museum, two cultural references of the city.
A church that is not a church
The Mercy Church of Leiria (Igreja da Misericórdia) is actually a desacralized church, converted in the home of the Leiria Intercultural Dialogue Center. The main goal of this project is to preserve the memory of different communities and identities that along the centuries have inhabited the region, especially in the Middle Ages, when the presence of Muslims, Christians and Jews was stronger.
The Jewish presence in Leiria dates back to the beginning of the 13th century, settling in a commune on the outskirts of the village and growing until the 15th century, when it reached its peak.
The Medieval Jewish quarter can still be seen nowadays. In 1492, the typewriter Samuel de Ortas has settled in this area and in 1496, he printed Almanach Perpetuum, written by Abraão Zacuto, and a decisive work for the Portuguese Discoveries. The Mercy Church was built upon the ancient Synagogue. This Baroque church now houses the Intercultural Dialogue Center that also embraces the Medieval house known as Casa dos Pintores.
What is it with Leiria and rock? Not only the city, but also the surrounding region of Alcobaça, Marinha Grande and Caldas da Rainha, is actually the home of countless rock bands that have made it in both the Portuguese and the international rock scene.
Leiria can be regarded as an incubator of inspiring rock bands. The 90's were particularly rich in terms of promising artistic formations and performers. These were the somehow remote times (almost prehistoric times) when there was no Internet, nor iTunes or Spotify. Globalisation as we know it today was still a distant accomplishment. But vibrant rock bands like Silence 4 (Leiria-based), headed by David Fonseca and Sofia Lisboa, ou The Gift (Alcobaça-based) paved the way for long-lasting music careers.
Cultural association Fade In, led by Carlos Matos, is extremely meaningful, as a powerful engine of culture in Leiria. It is responsible for the organisation of the mandatory Gothic Festival Extramuralhas, held every year in August, as well as for festivals of exploratory and alternative music genres. This is a non-profit cultural association that organises several events with an unmistakable seal of quality. Because "there is a culture that we cannot find on supermarket shelves".
What's the future like? The Leiria-based Omnichord Records has been developing in the last years a fundamental work in the public awareness of the importance of professionalisation. Not only of musicians, but also of all the invisible professions related to the music industry: stage assistants, writers, sound engineers, social media managers, light technicians and so on. Bands like Surma, First Breath After Coma or Whales were "hunted" in the secondary schools of Leiria. Most of these professional artists live from music. This is the main lesson: making culture professional, so that more genius bands like the ones back in the 90's can flourish in a highly skilled way. Into the future.