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June 2013

Please note
This gallery has four sub-galleries:

For The Nabantinos gallery click HERE
For the Templar City gallery click HERE
For the Churches and Chapels gallery click HERE
For the Convent of Christ gallery click HERE

Tomar, in central Portugal, is divided in two by the Nabão river. On the east side the modern city and on the west side the historic center rich in treasured monuments, restaurants and modern shops.

I knew nothing about Tomar. It should have been only the base for exploring Portugal.
When I first looked out of my hotel window and saw clay roofs and decadent buildings, a river, a medieval town and a castle over the hill, I knew that I had to spend some time in this city.


For six days I peacefully strolled up and down the narrow streets which are cobbled in marble and river stones.
The houses' dominant colour is white with the exception of a few yellow and red and a few others covered with the famous ceramic tiles. Many are abandoned and in need of repair.
The Tomarenses or Nabantinos are polite, helpful, have a sense of humour and are very proud of their history.
I was lucky to witness a religious procession, an organic market, a picnic held by pioneers in the middle of the Praça da República (Republic Square), a march along the major streets to celebrate the Fado (a type of Portuguese song) and a weekly colourful market.
The food served in the many restaurants found in the historic center, many owned by private families, is very healthy, affordable and plentiful. The majority of the hosts were accommodating but the ones at the Casa das Ratas restaurant (House of Rats) were extra friendly.

Those six days were so nice that I have become sentimentally attached to the historic center of this city.
I received news from my new friends, from Tomar, that some more historic buildings are slowly being restored.
I do hope that some day I will have the opportunity to revisit.
On my return home, I searched for the history of this medieval historic center so I would have a better understanding of what I had experienced.
I am including it here, in short format, in the hope that you have the time to read it...It will help you to better appreciate and understand the photos that I have included in the galleries.

The history
  • Under the city of Tomar lies the Roman city of Sellium and later named Nabantia under Visigoth rule.
  • In 1159, after the Portuguese Reconquista, the land of Tomar was granted to the Order of the Knights Templar.
  • In 1160, Tomar’s founder, Dom Gualdim Pais laid the first stone of the Castle. The town was built inside its walls.
    A few centuries later the town expanded outside the castle's walls, from the top of the hill to the banks of Nabão river. In 1160, under the order of Dom Gualdim Pais, the Church of Santa Maria do Olival was also built. Tomar’s first Templar church became his burial place.
  • In 1190 Abu Yusuf al-Mansur, a Moroccan caliph, and his army attacked Tomar and the castle but were kept at bay.
  • In 1314, under the pressure from Pope Clement V, the Templars were banned through Europe. In Portugal however, in 1319, King Dinis persuaded Pope John XXII to allow fugitive Templars to join, with their possessions, the newly created Order of Christ which was unique to Portugal.
  • Prince Henry “The Navigator”, 1394 – 1460, used the resources and knowledge of the Order to succeed in his enterprises in Africa and in the Atlantic. Henry, enriched by his overseas enterprises, was the first ruler, since Gualdim Pais, to improve and add-on to the buildings of the Convent of Christ.
    He also ordered dams to be built to control the river Nabão and swamps to be drained. As a result the town started to attract more settlers and the streets were designed in a rational, geometrical fashion, as they can still be seen today.
  • In 1492, after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, the town increased further with Jewish refugees, artisans and traders. The original synagogue still stands as a memory of those days.
  • During the reign of Manuel I of Portugal, 1495 – 1521, a new nave was added to the structure of the Convent of Christ, built in Manueline architectural style, including the famous Chapter Window (Janela do Capítulo). He also ordered the construction of the Church of São João Bapstista, built in gothic style with an early Manueline style façade, in the very center of the town.
  • In 1557, his successor, King D. João III of Portugal ordered an addition to the Convent of Christ. The new cloister was considered one of the best examples of the Renaissance architecture of Portugal.
  • In 1593, King Philip of Portugal commissioned the construction of the Aqueduct of Pegões to supply water to the Convent of Christ.
  • During the 18th century Tomar was one of the first portuguese industrial regions. With royal support a textile factory, owned by Jácome Ratton, was established against the opposition of the Order. The hydraulic resources of the Nabão river were used to supply energy to this and many other factories namely paper, foundries, glassworks, silks and soaps.
  • In time, the ancient Castle of Tomar and the Convent of Christ lost importance. The Order of Christ declined in power and purpose. In 1834 all the religious orders, including the Order, were disbanded. In 1907 the portuguese state secularized the Order and classified the site as a National Monument. In 1983 the Convent became a UNESCO World Heritage site.