"Home of the Knights Templar" the "Tomar Castle"

"Home of the Knights Templar"  the  "Tomar Castle"
We put money in this guys box for the foto op. Is this the last ark?

What is your first thought when you hear the phrase “The Knights Templar”?

Mine is “Indiana Jones and the Lost Ark of the covenant.”  I am not sure why, since I didn´t watch any of the movies but I did go on the ride in Disneyland.  I decided to go visit Tomar and the Templar castle to get the real story.  It was an amazing adventure much richer than Disney provided.

The architecture is incredible but the Templar story is just as interesting.  They started as the “Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ at the Temple of Solomon” and were a military order of the Catholic faith to protect Christian pilgrims in Palestine.  The name Poor fellows is amusing being that theTemplars were one of the wealthiest and most popular military orders in Western Christianity.

History of the territory...

The Tomar region was founded by the Romans as Sellium in early Christian times.  Then in 723 the Moors, as the Islamic forces were know, had swept through Spain, Portugal and southern France ruling for about 400 years.  They left their mark with incredible art, architecture and traces of their language which can be found throughout Portugal today.    

In the 11th century the Christian crusades started the push south known as the reconquest.    The 1st king of Portugal was Afonso I  (Afonso Henriques ) 1139 to 1185.  He ruled informally until the Portuguese monarchy was established.    The king granted the region of Tomar to the Knights Templar and Catholic church.

Gauldim Pais, Grand Master of the Knights Templar arrived in 1157. Three years later he began the building of the Templar fortress and Convento de Cristo.

With only about 200 years in existence, the Templar's built one of most impressive architectural gems of Portugal.  This property appears to be the first castle commissioned by a Portuguese King. Many others were taken over and rebuilt by succeeding kings and queens but I will save those stories for another post on castles. Though the Templars only existed for 200 years and were disbanded by the Pope, Tomar has been named the official home of the Templar Order.

Small knocks to workship in everywhere. Beautiful tiles.

Covento de Cristo (Covent of Christ) and the Castle of the Knights Templar were built together into one very large compound on the hill overlooking the Nabao River, with picturesque banks, beautiful bridges, gardens and the historic mills.

Rebuilt watermill architecture of the Moors

There is a beautiful round chapel within the main building for the Templars.  Touring this property it became so evident to me how the “state, church and military” were all one in the same.  This  intertwined relationship supported the monarchy in believing that through their blood alone was the connection to god so they could rule.  As monarchies dissolved throughout Europe, more democratic societies emerged to rule the lands.    America was founded on separation of church and state.  Unfortunately there seems to be a stepping back to the dark ages to reconnect them today.

Various castles were built or renovated through the actions of Master Gauldim Pais.  He built another Castle very close by on a small island in the Tagus River to monitor river traffic.  The Castle Almourol is a small fortress with ten circular turrets.  https://www.portugalvisitor.com/portugal-castles/almourol-castle   On my next trip to Tomar, I will make time to visit Almourol as well.  

Festival dos Tabuleiros  (Festival of Trays)

One of Portugal’s more colorful and unique festivals happens in Tomar only once every four years in July, which I attended with a friend Josiane and her lovely dog Storm in 2023.  

Grape and Storm, meeting with these sweet ladies

The highlight of the Festival dos Tabuleiros (Festival of Trays) is easily the parade characterized by women carrying tall trays on their heads filled with bread and flowers, but the week around the festival is full of dancing, drinking and plenty of delicious Portuguese food. This also happens to be one of the country’s oldest festivals, dating back to ancient times, likely pre-Christian, and were connected to fertility and agricultural celebrations.  Over the centuries, the festival evolved, incorporating Christian elements, and became associated with the feast of the Holy spirit.

During the Festa dos Tabuleiros, the streets of Tomar come alive with colorful processions, religious ceremonies, music,  and dancing.

Those look Grape E Good

The blessing of the trays:  After the religious ceremonies, the trays are blessed, and the bread and flowers are distributed to the needy in the community.  This act symbolizes the sharing and abundance and the importance of caring for all. This spirit is strong in Portugal in many aspects of the culture from work place, government policies and generosity of the people everywhere.

Things to do when visiting Tomar:

1.  Convento de Cristo  (Covent of Christ) and Castle of the Knights Templar.  For just a few euros you can visit this Templar stronghold that later became the Renaissance convent.  The Round Templar church is a must see.  The castle offers breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside and historic city center.

2.  Walk the charming streets of Tomar´s historic center:  You will find old houses, traditional shops, and lovely squares like Praça da Republica.  On my last visit, I stopped into several small shops and bought some summer wear.

3. Mata Nacional dos Sete Montes:  The 7 hills National Forest surrounds the Convento de Cristo with hiking trails and picnic locations.  A hikers paradise.

4. Aqueduct of Pegoes:  A 6 mile long aqueduct was built in the 16thcentury to supply water to the convent.  It´s remarkable engineering from the Renaissance period spans valleys and hills.  It is a beautiful hike.  Read more on the link below.    https://www.roadtripsaroundtheworld.com/the-tomar-aqueduct-in-portugal/

5.  Church of Sao Joao Baptista:  A must see with its beautiful carvings.

Estimates suggest that there are around 150 to 200 castles and fortifications scattered throughout Portugal. Some are well-preserved and open to the public as tourist attractions, while others may be in more remote or inaccessible locations. Each of these castles offers a unique glimpse into Portugal's history and cultural heritage.

I picked up a book called Castelos... Maravilhas de Portugal Castles, Wonders of Portugal.  By Joao Gouveia Monteiro.  Volume 1.  I haven't found a volume 2 but will buy it as well if it is published.

Twenty castles are featured in the picture book and descriptions are in English and Portuguese.  I plan to tour all 20 and write about them.  sign up to receive future posts.  See you in Portugal....