Our friend Sarah (an American, living in Paris whom we met in Jordan) was over for a short stay, so it was the perfect time for our first visit to Tomar, home of the Knights Templar of Crusader fame. Having done little research prior to our trip, in many ways made it even more enjoyable. The town itself, with a pedestrianised centre full of old buildings, narrow lanes and an impressive town square is charming enough – and we were lucky enough to arrive on the second Sunday of the month and so were able to enjoy the bric-a-brac market that is set up along the main cobbled drag of town. But you have to cast your eyes upwards to see why Tomar is famous. The Convent de Cristo sits upon a wooded hill and dominates the old town. It is the main reason people come here and it doesn’t disappoint.
This was the headquarters of the Knights Templar, an order of crusaders, famous for their exploits in the holy land during the crusades but they also held enormous power in Portugal, amongst other countries between the 12th and 16th centuries. During this time they bankrolled the great age of discovery forged by Portuguese sailors such as Henry the Navigator and Vasco da Gama. The building itself is a monastery founded in the 12th century. It has chapels, cloisters and chapter houses in wildly divergent styles added to over the centuries by successive kings and Grand Masters. The mishmash of styles and way it has been added to make it even more impressive than had it been built at once, every corner you turn revealing something new and interesting. There are many highlights but perhaps for me is to get onto the roof and see the Chapter House which seems to rise out of the walls of the complex in all its glory. Also the Charola – the 16 sided Templar church where you almost expect to see characters from a Dan Brown novel decrypting some important Da Vinci Code.
The entrance to the castle
Jackie and Sarah