I have visited Tomar three or four times now and I just never get tired of going back again – always staying at the Hotel Dos Templarios of course. The town was located in a kind of no-mans land between the Islamic realm of Al-Andalus and the Christian crusader kingdom of Portugal to the north.
In the twelfth century, the Islamic caliphate that had ruled most of the Iberian peninsula from the year 711CE, was being rolled back by new Christian kingdoms like Aragon, Castile, Leon, Navarre and Portugal. The king of Portugal was a plucky chap called Dom Afonso Henriques and he relied heavily on the Templars as a kind of shock troops to soften up the Moors (the Muslims to the south) before the Portuguese then conquered another town for Christ.
In their role as shock troops, the Templars were the advance guard in to what was termed ‘nullis diocesis’ – the land in central Portugal where no prince or bishop ruled as it was still actively contested between Christians and Muslims. Tomar was part of this unruly domain.
The Templars built a many sided fortress like church termed a ‘charola’ that still stands today. It was circular in imitation of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem (though having been there, I can say the resemblance is rather slight) and they could also hear mass on horseback – ready to charge out and do battle at short notice.
Once the Templars were suppressed, the Portuguese hit on the novel idea of sort of nationalising them as the Order of Christ. And Tomar became headquarters to this new royal order. The Convent of Christ was bolted on to the old charola, built in the sixteenth century Manueline style.
The clerical occupants have now gone but what is left – is a magnificent historical site. There was a lot of cement being laid all over the hilltop approach last time I was there and I hope that the cement obsessed Portuguese don’t ruin the tranquility of the site by turning it in to a theme park (I’m half-Portuguese and can say these things!). Here are my photos from my last visits.