Anybody who has been following this blog for any length of time knows that I’m obsessed with the Templar history of Portugal. I’ve been all over Europe and the Middle East to see Templar sites, but I always come back to Portugal. Being half-Portuguese of course has nothing to do with it 🙂
August will see me visiting some incredible places and events and blogging to you direct from them:
Tomar – the evocative headquarters of the Knights Templar. A small town now dominated by a Templar fortress on top of a hill. The peaceful beauty of Tomar today belies its violent past as the front line between Christian and Muslim Europe in the Middle Ages. I’ll share with you some thrilling Templar stories and great pictures
Santa Maria da Feira – this town hosts an extremely popular festival called the Medieval Journey. They stage a huge mock battle and this year the theme is King Afonso IV. He was the son of King Dinis of Portugal who saved the Templars by cunningly renaming them the Order of Christ and giving the knights royal protection
Viana do Castelo – I’ve been visiting this town for over forty years and in August, it stages a festival for Our Lady of Agony This includes several women who dress as Mary, mother of Jesus, with fake swords plunged in their chests (well, they appear to be!) to symbolise the agonies she endured at the crucifixion
Sintra – A forest just outside Lisbon with fairytale castles, a huge wall built by the invading caliphate in the medieval period and tunnels some believe are linked to the Knights Templar
Porto and Lisbon – the first and second cities of Portugal both dripping with history but quite different. Porto, the launchpad for the crusader invasion of Lisbon, which was then under Muslim control and called Al-Usbunna
All over Europe and the Middle East, you can still find towns that have retained their medieval walls. It’s hard to imagine now but cities were often contained within imposing fortifications – there was even a massive wall that ran all the way round London from the late Roman empire (as barbarian attacks increased) through to large scale demolition in the eighteenth century.
Many cities burst out from their walls over the last two, three hundred years and then like London – dispensed with this restraint on urban growth. But some have managed to hold on to their walls and it’s a huge pleasure to walk them. Though I should warn you that in certain towns, the walls do not have protective railings – Obidos in Portugal being a case in point.
The most picturesque – though heavily restored – is Carcassone in France, which was home to the Cathar revolt against the Catholic church in the Middle Ages. As you approach it, Carcassone does look uncannily like one of those towns depicted in medieval illuminated manuscripts – or a medieval version of Disneyland if you prefer.
Tomar is a beautiful Templar town in Portugal where the order held out after being crushed throughout Europe. On top of a hill overlooking the winding streets of the medieval town is a Templar ‘charola’ or octagonal church built like a fortress. Attached to it is a semi-ruined convent constructed in the 16th century Manueline style.
Tomar was recently chosen to be the global HQ of The International Order of the Knights Templar – OSMTH – and this has led to the first ever Templar festival being held in the town. Quite why it hasn’t happened before I can’t imagine. Having visited Tomar every year since 2009, I can assure you that this is a must see for any Templar.
I wish I could have given you more notice but I only found out about the event yesterday, which is happening between the 23rd and 26th of this month. Full details in Portuguese can be found HERE. If you can’t make it – then please browse the images below from my last visit in August, 2012.
This is a Templar jewel – something everybody should visit. It’s the burial place of the Templar grand masters of Portugal – a church in the town of Tomar built in the very century that the order was formed by Hugh de Payens. Every Templar Grand Master from Gualdim Pais onwards was interred in this modest church until the Templars were suppressed by order of the pope. It’s difficult to find the graves of all the masters and a simple plaque indicates the remains of Pais – a legendary figure in his own lifetime who fought the Moors alongside the first king of Portugal.
These are photographs I took there in August this year.
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.
Tomar features in my latest book Quest for the True Cross – which you can buy on Amazon in paperback and kindle. And watch the book promo trailer on YouTube.
Tendo sido duas vezes para Tomar, em tantos anos, posso dizer-lhe que este é o destino dos Templários para se visitar. Você deve tratar-se de uma estadia no Hotel dos Templarios e durante o dia visitar o “Charola” ou igreja templária circular construída no século XII por Templar Português Grand Master Gualdim Pais.
Com paredes espessas a Charola havia um altar no meio e cavaleiros templários seriam originalmente ter montado e foi capaz de se manter a cavalo, enquanto um serviço foi dito por um capelão em pé no meio. Então eles poderiam montar para fora para fazer a batalha com os mouros. Esta parte do meio Portugal era disputada pelos muçulmanos “mouros” – que ainda governava o sul – e os reinos do norte cruzado por muitos anos. Foi uma espécie de ermo, onde apenas os Templários eram bravos ou temerário o bastante para enfrentar as forças muçulmanas.
Em minhas conversas com um historiador local, há caginess notável sobre admitindo que este era uma vez uma cidade moura. A linha oficial parece ser que Tomar fica em duas cidades romanas, que era em grande parte despovoada na ocupação moura e depois de ter sido “libertado” pelos Templários, eles fundaram a cidade como a conhecemos. Mas parece-me claro que dentro da preceptoria dos Templários, tinha havido um acordo árabe (a Medina) e que os templários aproveitando técnicas para suas paredes que têm uma forte influência mourisca. Os nomes dos portões para a preceptoria indicam uma influência árabe também.
A Charola agora se junta a um complexo vasto convento construído em grande parte, no século XVI – 200 anos depois dos Templários tinha sido esmagado sob as ordens do Papa. O Convento de Cristo é um impressionante edifício construído no ‘estilo manuelino’ estilo – lotes de motivos corda na pedra e uma janela famosa elaborado. Mas é a Charola que eu estou sempre atraídos. É um espaço bonito, pintado muito elaborada – em parte, no momento, mas depois também.
Soldados franceses durante as guerras napoleônicas do século XIX fez algum dano ao convento e da Charola mas nada que possa arruinar a sua visita. A coisa toda é assustadoramente deserta de ambos os templários e os habitantes mais tarde monástica. Existem linhas de células vazias de acompanhamento longos corredores – muito assustador.
Tomar também tem uma igreja onde vários dos Grandes Mestres são enterrados – Santa Maria do Olival. É um pouco decepcionante como um prédio e situado ao lado que parece ser um conjunto habitacional. Mas note a janela pentagrama. Você terá que perguntar onde está sepultado Gualdim Pais, porque ele não é fácil de encontrar. Pais é visto pelo Português como algo de uma figura da lenda arturiana – embora, ao contrário de Arthur, sabemos Pais existia com certeza. Mas ele está envolta em um certo grau de mistério. Uma coisa é certa é que ele lutou contra os mouros para trás o tempo e, novamente, incluindo um vasto exército que ameaçava dominar Tomar em 1190.