In 1983, UNESCO declared a priceless jewel of Western history a “World Heritage Site” monument: the Templar Castle and the Convento dos Cavaleiros de Cristo in Tomar. This vast monumental complex, built on an ancient Roman place of worship, tells us about seven centuries of Portuguese history and the most salient moments in Western history.
Afonso Henriques, the first king of Portugal, donated a vast region between the Mondego and Tagus rivers to the Knights of the Temple of Jerusalem. Legend has it that, in 1160, the knights who arrived on the spot chose a mountain to build a castle and the name they would have given it: Tomar. In 1314, the Order of the Temple was extinguished due to the persecutions of the king of France, Philip the Fair. But thanks to D. Dinis, in 1319 people, goods and privileges were completely integrated into a new order – the Militia of the Knights of Christ – which together with the Infante D. Henrique would support the Portuguese nation in the great enterprise of maritime discoveries. of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The Tomar Castle then became a Convent and seat of the Order and the Infante Henry the Navigator their Governor and perpetual Administrator.
Originally it was a fortified castle that served to defend the Christian kingdom from the aggression of the Moors, who were pressing on the borders.
Today the Convent of Christ order is a mix of Gothic, Romanesque, Manueline and Renaissance styles, but you don’t need to be an architecture expert to appreciate its beauty.
Strolling through its eight courtyards, each one different from the other, and admiring the richness of the sculptures and decorations makes you feel inside a time machine.
One of the most extraordinary parts of the Convent of Christ is the Charola, a 16-sided Templar church, built in imitation of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. It is said that its circular plan is due to the fact that the riders could participate in the functions remaining in the saddle of their horse.
Seen from the outside, the church and the chapter house are a riot of Manueline decorations: capitals, sculptures, gargoyles, ropes, Templar symbols … A beautiful example is the Manueline janela, a richly decorated window on the western side of the church, which can be best admired from the adjacent Closter of Santa Bárbara.
Among the eight courtyards of the Convento de Cristo, the Renaissance-style Main Closter or of Dom João III leaves you speechless. It is a two-storey cloister, connected by helical staircases on the four corners, with a fountain in the center in the shape of a Templar cross. The atmosphere is truly suggestive, you feel transported back in time.