Tomar is a city and municipality in the Santarém district of Portugal. One can’t write about Tomar without writing about the Templar Knights. Tomar was the Headquarters of the Knights Templar Order in Portugal for nearly 700 years. The development of Tomar is closely linked to the Order of the Templars, which received the lands in 1159 as a reward for assistance given to Dom Afonso Henriques, the First King of Portugal, in the Christian reconquest of the territory. Gualdim Pais and the Templar Knights successfully defended Tomar for six days when it was besieged by the Muslim army. Dom Gualdim Pais, was the first Grand Master of the Order in Portugal, and he founded the castle and the Convent of Christ in Tomar.

The wealth and power of the Order increased until early in the 14th century, when the King of France, Philip IV, persuaded the Pope that the Knights Templar Order should be destroyed. The Templars had their land and their wealth taken from them and the Order was finished. Except in Portugal, where the King of Portugal didn’t believe the accusations made against the Order and offered it protection by persuading the Pope to agree to his forming a new Order, the Order of Christ. The Templar wealth, land, property and knights were moved to the new order and the headquarters were moved away from Tomar to the border with Spain

It was Henry the Navigator, who a hundred years later, restored Tomar and the castle as the headquarters for the Order of Christ, he had living quarters made for himself and his wife within the Castle, and two new courtyards built for the Knights. The Templar Castle and the Convent of the Knights of Christ is built on a site that was originally used for Roman worship, and was awarded the classification of world heritage by UNESCO in 1983.

The convent was built over five centuries and provides a mixture of Manueline, Gothic, Moorish, Corinthian and Tuscan architectural styles. King Manuel, between 1510 -15, commissioned the decorative interior adding stucco, carved woodwork, fresco and secco paintings. The 12th century Charola or rotunda is an early Templar Romanesque fortified oratory, inspired by the Temple in Jerusalem.

I visited tomar in July, just after the Festa dos Tabuleiros, (Tray Festival). The festival takes place every four years, women parade around Tomar with trays with displays of bread, pieces of wheat, and paper flowers, on their heads. The displays weigh around 15 kilos, contain at least thirty loaves of bread and are as tall as the women carrying them. The whole town is decorated in paper flowers and some of the decorations were still up when I was there. The festival dates back to the late 13th or early 14th centuries.

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