When I studied history in a Portuguese secondary school, one window was on the cover of the book. I wondered what could be so important about a simple window. Well, this is the story behind what I came to find out was the jewel of the Portuguese Renaissance art. Let me tell you about its meaning within Tomar, the last stronghold of the Templars in Portugal.
This window belongs to the Convent of Christ in Tomar, at the centre of Portugal, close to Amieira do Tejo and Belver. Now, if you look a bit deeper into its history, it turns out that Tomar was the headquarters of the Templars in Portugal, actually its epicentre. And the Templars in Portugal were so much more important than in any other country. When Portugal separated from Castile and was born as a country, the Templars were there to help create the foundations of the new country. They built fortresses, had an army, and brought in the civilized way of living in Jerusalem.
So when Pope Clement V banished the order in 1312, the Portuguese King, Dinis, had a great idea: he turned them into the Order of Christ. In this way, they got to keep all their rights and properties. Only a few things changed: they broke the contact with the East, and now the king had the power to name their Master. So, the monarchy and the new order were very close from the beginning, and this link actually helped develop the most glorious moment of Portugal: the discoveries. The Templars had been great travellers, and some of the greatest discoverers belonged to their order: Cabral, Magalhães, Vasco da Gama. They sailed around Africa, Brazil... the whole world!
This brings us back to our window. It is the jewel of the Manueline style, the greatest Lusitanian art style. It represents the strong presence of Portugal in the world because of its discoveries. It pays homage to the oceans, the globe not so unknown anymore, the navigation with the lanyards, buoys, etc. These knights were part of this, and that is why this window - with the Order of Christ’s flagships - is in the Convent of Christ at Tomar, their central site. It is defended by a castle that the Templars built in the 12th century, the most advanced in war defence, inspired by the eastern fortresses. It is so great that it has been named the UNESCO Patrimony.
When you visit Tomar, the first thing you see from afar is the fortress we have described before. However, there is much more to visit! The cross-shaped bourg is surrounded by four convents at each extreme, and it has a church right in the middle, dedicated to Saint John Baptiste. In the other church (Santa Maria Olival) are buried some of the Templars’ first Masters. A synagogue and a couple of curious museums (matches and Levada, this last one dedicated to ancient mills) are really good options to complete your visit.
Tomarense people must have a really sweet tooth, according to the huge variety of cakes you can try in the local pastry shops! Try a few and take away others, they are yummy! The names are top: "kiss me quickly" or "little kisses from Tomar". How could you say no to these?
And last but not least, let me mention the huge feast of the Tabuleiros. One of the most ancient in Portugal and definitely the one with the most attendance, it only happens every four years, in July. A whirlwind of colours and music surrounds the visitor, a feast is full of traditions and divided into several ceremonies. Words cannot describe it enough, so I will share a video below. Just know that this too has been awarded as Immaterial Cultural Patrimony by UNESCO.
A true Templar complex, with its fortress, church and convent that have survived despite their eviction, awaits you in Tomar, together with the beauties of the Medieval bourg. Here, traditions have been zealously kept all these centuries, also in food and feasts. When in the area, take the time to visit Tomar, the last stronghold of the Templars in Portugal.
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