Situated in a large and beautiful valley on the banks of the River Nabão in central Portugal, Tomar is very closely linked to the Knights Templar and one of the most important chapters of Portugal’s history.
The Order of the Templars was founded in 1119. Portugal’s first king, Afonso I, gave them the castle of Ceras in 1159 and the following year their Grande Master, Gualdim Pais, built the Castle of Tomar on a hill above the river.
After the suppression of the order in 1314, King Dinis then founded a new order – the Order of Christ – which was transferred to Tomar in 1356. This helped finance Henry the Navigator‘s voyages of discovery in the 14th and 15th centuries, during which his ships bore the Order’s red cross on their sails.
Tomar’s twisting medieval cobbled streets and abundance of ancient monuments make it a fascinating place to visit at any time of the year.
The town’s star attraction (indeed, one of Portugal‘s most impressive monuments) is the Convent of Christ, built over a period of six hundred years from the 12th to the 17th centuries. This magnificent structure comprises a temple, church, huge bell tower and seven cloisters.
Octagonal in shape and glittering with gold in the Byzantine style, the Charola inside the church was the Templar’s regular place of worship, which they entered through a portal (now marked by a plaque) where horsemen were blessed.
Half-way down the hill stands the church of Nossa Senhora da Conceição (built between 1530 and 1550) with its early Renaissance interior by Diogo de Torralva.
Close by, the late-15th century Gothic church of São João Baptista on the town’s main square features some rare 16th-century paintings, including the Last Supper by Gregório Lopes (1490-1550). Tomar also has a small Jewish museum housed in a 15th-century synagogue.
One particular occasion to look out for is the Festa dos Tabuleiros which Tomar hosts every four years (the next one takes place in summer 2023) during which more than six hundred graceful young ladies walk through town carrying on their heads impressive constructions of loaves and sausages threaded on reeds and decorated with flowers, rosettes and ears of wheat to create one of the most visually spectacular processions in the whole of Europe.
Comprising 180 arches, the Pegões Aqueduct on the edge of town was constructed from 1593-1614 to carry water to the Convent of Christ.
The pretty whitewashed town of Constância 20 km south-east of Tomar marks the point where the Tagus and Zêzere rivers meet. Also worth seeing is the Castle of Almourel situated on an island in the Tagus, a short drive east of Constância.