Tomar is a charming Portuguese city, filled with ancient churches, narrow cobbled streets, and traditional white houses. The city is set in a landscape of beautiful valleys, bending rivers, and gently rolling mountains swathed in pines and eucalyptus trees.
Tomar was established by the Knights Templar in the 12th century on land granted by Afonso I, the first king of Portugal. The Convent of Christ and Castle complex, founded in the town in the second half of the 12th century by the Templars, was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983.
One of the most interesting events in the city is the Festa dos Tabuleiros (Festival of the Trays; tabuleira is a basket of bread that women carry on their heads). The procession is held every four years, the last one being held in 2019.
Who were the Templars?
The Templars were a Catholic military order that arose in the 12th century after the first crusade to the Holy Land (today it is part of the territory of Israel).
Before the campaigns, the Holy Land, like most of the territory of modern Portugal and Spain, was occupied by Muslims. But, even despite the split in the Christian Church, when Catholics and Orthodox Christians turned away from each other, Christians gradually conquered their lands.
At the beginning of the 14th century, King Philip IV of France, allegedly mired in debt to the Templars for support in the war with England, decided to put pressure on the church to relieve him of debt obligations and to destroy the order in France. Following the accusations, the Pope approves of the arrest of members of the order in the rest of the Catholic world. The only exceptions were three kingdoms: Castile, Aragon, and Portugal.
King Denis of Portugal did not obey and refused to pursue the Templars. But, since the order was officially dissolved, the Templars in Portugal simply changed their name to become the Order of Christ (Ordem de Cristo) and preserved all the property, including the famous “Castelo de Tomar”.
Castle and Convent of the Knights Templar
The monastery of the Order of Christ (Convento de Cristo) is an interesting historical symbol, which construction began in 1160. Today, the unique ancient monastery, which amazes with its impressive size, is a landmark of world importance and is listed as a UNESCO site. Outwardly, it looks more like an old fortress, initially, it was built as a fortification, in which warrior monks lived.
Address: Igreja do Castelo Templario, 2300-000 Tomar, Portugal.
Opening hours: 09:00–17:30 (October to May), 9:00–18:30 (June to September).
Admission: 6 €.
Square of the Republic
Decorated with knightly symbols, the Square of the Republic (Praça da República) is the main public meeting place in the city. Black and white cobblestoned pavement provides this area with charm. On the square, there is the Manueline Church of St. John the Baptist of the 15th century, the Town Council, and a statue of Dom Gualdim Pais, the Grand Master of the Order of the Knights Templar. There are some cute bars and restaurants around the square, too.
Church of St. John the Baptist
The Church of St. John the Baptist (Igreja de São João Batista) was built at the beginning of the 16th century and is a fine example of Manueline, also known as Portuguese Late Gothic architecture. It is located on the delightful Square of the Republica. Since 1910, the church has been classified as a National Monument.
Address: Rua São João 135, Tomar, Portugal.
Opening hours: 08:00–19:00 (every day).
The Old Bridge
The Old Bridge (Ponte Velha), which crosses the River Nabao, is a great example of a Medieval bridge and is one of the symbols of the city. It is located next to the Convent of St. Irene, has only one direction of road traffic, and can be easily reached on foot. Its origin is unknown; the structure has suffered some transformations over the centuries, like in 1480, 1550, and 1710. This beautiful arch bridge is a good place for a nice photo and a short stop to appreciate nature in the middle of the historic Tomar.
Church and Convent of St. Irene
Only 5 minutes walk away from the historical center, there is the Church and Convent of St. Irene (Igreja e Convento de Santa Iria). Located near the River Nabao, this Coimbrian Renaissance-style complex was built in the 16th century on the site where a Christian nun Iria who lived in the 7th century was martyred by order of nobleman Britaldo. Since 1920, part of the complex has been classified as a National Monument.
Address: Rua Marquês de Pombal 63, 2300-510 Tomar, Portugal.
Opening hours: 10:00–13:00, 15:00–19:00 (Tuesday to Saturday).
Useful information about Tomar
Area: 351 km² / 135 sq mi
Elevation: 77 m / 253 ft
Coordinates: 39° 36′ 13” N, 8° 24′ 46” W
Official language: Portuguese
Tomar is located on the banks of the Nabao River in the Centro region, central Portugal, 135 km (84 mi) northeast of Lisbon.
Where to stay: Best Hotels in Tomar, Portugal
It was a sunny day when I visited Tomar. In addition to historical sights, I also really enjoyed walking along the banks of the Nabao River.
If fate brings you to Portugal, find a day to go to Tomar. The town was the birthplace of the brave Templars, of which the preserved sights of antiquity remind tourists today. But it is worth going to Tomar not only to feel the spirit of history. The city itself is very beautiful and will surely leave pleasant memories, perfectly complementing your vacation in Portugal.
I hope you enjoyed my Top 5 attractions in Tomar post. If you like Portugal and its cities with a unique atmosphere and historical heritage, here are a few more posts that I recommend you read next:
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