Tomar is a historic city located in central Portugal, known for its picturesque beauty and rich cultural heritage. However, it is perhaps best known for its association with the Knights Templar, one of the most legendary military orders in European history.
The Knights Templar was founded in Jerusalem in 1119, by a group of French knights who pledged to protect pilgrims on their journey to the holy city. The order grew rapidly in size and power, eventually gaining the support of the Pope and becoming one of the most influential institutions in medieval Europe. The Templars were known for their military prowess, their monastic lifestyle, and their wealth, which came from donations by devout Christians and their role as bankers and money lenders.
The Knights Templar in Portugal
The Knights Templar arrived in Portugal in the 12th century, and quickly established themselves as a powerful and respected force in the country. King Afonso Henriques, the first king of Portugal, granted the Templars land and privileges, including exemption from taxes and the right to conduct their own trials. The Templars were also instrumental in the Portuguese Reconquista, the centuries-long effort to reclaim the Iberian Peninsula from Muslim rule.
The Templars played a key role in the Battle of Ourique in 1139, which was a turning point in the “Reconquista” and helped establish Portugal as an independent nation. According to legend, a vision of Christ appeared to King Afonso during the battle, inspiring him to lead his troops to victory. The Templars were said to have fought alongside the Portuguese army and played a crucial role in the battle.
Tomar before the Knights Templar
The history of Tomar goes back to prehistoric times, as evidenced by the numerous archaeological sites in the area. The Romans also had a significant presence in Tomar, as it was an important crossroads for their transportation routes. The Moors, who ruled much of Portugal from the 8th to the 12th century, also left their mark on Tomar. They built a castle on a hill overlooking the town, which is still visible today.
Tomar: The Headquarters of the Knights Templar in Portugal
In 1160, the Knights Templar established their headquarters in Tomar, a strategically located town in central Portugal. The town was built on a hill overlooking the Nabão River, and was surrounded by thick walls and a moat. The Templars transformed Tomar into a fortified city, with a castle, a palace, and a network of underground tunnels that connected the various buildings.
The centrepiece of Tomar is the Convent of Christ, a vast complex of buildings that served as the headquarters of the Knights Templar in Portugal. The convent was built over several centuries, with different sections reflecting different architectural styles. The oldest part of the convent is the Charola, a circular church that was built in the 12th century and is one of the best-preserved examples of Templar architecture in the world.
The establishment of the Knights Templar in Tomar
In 1157, the Knights Templar were given a grant of land by King Afonso I of Portugal. This land was located in the region of Tomar, and it included a castle on a hill overlooking the town. The Knights Templar quickly set to work building a fortress on the hill, which became known as the Castle of Tomar. This fortress was strategically located, as it commanded a view of the surrounding area, and it was an important defensive position.
The Castle of Tomar was designed to be both a military fortress and a monastery. The Knights Templar were a religious order, and they followed a strict code of conduct. They were celibate, and they were forbidden from owning property or engaging in commercial activities. However, the order was also a military organisation, and the Knights Templar were skilled fighters. The Castle of Tomar was designed to reflect both of these aspects of the order.
The Charola is a small, circular church with an octagonal apse, decorated with frescoes and ornate stonework. The church was designed to resemble the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, which was the holiest site in Christendom and the spiritual home of the Knights Templar. The Charola is a masterpiece of Romanesque architecture, with a simple, elegant design that reflects the ascetic lifestyle of the Templars.
The Convent of Christ also includes a number of other buildings, including a Gothic cloister, a Renaissance palace, and a Baroque church. The palace was built in the 16th century, and was used as a residence by the Portuguese kings. The church was added in the 17th century, and is a masterpiece of Baroque architecture, with elaborate gilded decoration and intricate stonework.
The Castle of Tomar was built in the shape of a cross, with a large courtyard in the center. The main church of the order, the Church of Santa Maria do Olival, was located on the eastern side of the courtyard. This church was built in the Romanesque style, and it was richly decorated with sculptures and frescoes. The western side of the courtyard was occupied by the residential quarters of the Knights Templar, while the southern and northern sides were used for defensive purposes.
The Knights Templar were dissolved in 1312, after being accused of heresy and other crimes by King Philip IV of France. However, their legacy lived on in Portugal, where they were remembered as heroes and defenders of the faith.
Lisbon Sintra Tours offer day tours to Tomar from Lisbon. These day trips can be combined with other destinations such as the wonderful walled town of Óbidos. If you would like to arrange a private tour for your group, please complete our enquiry form or email us.