Festa dos Tabuleiros

We take a look at the Festa dos Tabuleiros, one of Portugal’s oldest and grandest festivals.

The Festa dos Tabuleiros (Festival of the Trays) is such an elaborate and magnificent occasion that it only takes place every four years. The good news is that 2023 is one of those years.

The beautiful city of Tomar (pronounced too-mar) is the home of the festival, which this year will run from Saturday, 1 July to Monday, 10 July. Located 145 kilometres northeast of Lisbon, Tomar is one the most enchanting of all of Portugal’s cities, resplendent as it is with a glorious 12th-century castle, narrow cobbled streets, beautiful parks and the Nabão River, which winds through the centre of the city.

The ten days of the Festa dos Tabuleiros comprise a multitude of separate processions, concerts, tournaments, traditional games, and fireworks. It culminates in the magnificent ‘Great Procession’ of Sunday, 9 July, for which all of Tomar’s streets and houses are bedecked with colourful handmade flowers and buntings. Tens of thousands of villagers flock into the city, bringing it to life with colour, food, and the noise of generations of families.

The highlight of the Great Procession is the fantastic trays carried by young women from the locality. Dressed in flowing white gowns with brightly coloured belts and sashes, they walk one after the other, balancing beautiful towering platters of bread and flowers and wheat on their heads. They’re each accompanied by a young man who helps lift and lower the trays and can step in should their partner grow tired in the often intense summer heat. In addition to the carrying of the trays, the procession is interspersed with local livestock, marching bands, and local dignitaries, making it a truly unique event and one well worth savouring.

The festival is the culmination of months of planning and intense work, which, for 2023, has been overseen by event organiser Dídio Santos. I asked Dídio what he wants to achieve this year and he said, “I want all Tomarese to be proud of the festival that we have prepared for during these long months in order to preserve this great tradition which is considered one of the oldest and greatest religious and cultural manifestations in the world.” As for any messages for readers of Tomorrow magazine, Dídio said, “I ask that they come to Tomar. The best-known event is the Great Procession on Sunday, 9 July, but it is not the only reason to visit. On Saturday, 8 July, we also have a very similar parade, but does not have the religious connotations.” 

Tomar is one of the most beautiful and intriguing cities in Portugal. It’s worth visiting any time of the year, and especially during the Festa dos Tabuleiros.




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