Although a small town, Tomar plays a large role in a very important stage of Portuguese history, with links to the Knights Templar andthe Discoveries, and remains an attractive and interesting place to visit.
Its story begins in the eleven hundreds when much land in the area was donated to the Knights of the Temple of Jerusalem by the then Queen Dona Teresa and her son Dom Alfonso Henriques. Upon this land the Master of the Order of the Temple, Gualdim Pais, instigated the building of a castle which would continue to grow in size and grandeur throughout the ages until the 17th century.
Legend tells us that the position of the castle, and indeed its name, came to the Templars in a vision upon their arrival in the area. The castle and the Knights of the Order served to defend the centre of Portugal from attack and invasion, and often they were besieged, but by the 14th century there was a movement throughout Europe to ban the Templars and so came about the extinction of the Order. However, they continued to be supported by the Portuguese royals and so in 1319 Dom Dinis eventually succeeded in negotiating with the Catholic powers the establishment of the new Order of Christ, which would basically take over from where the Templars left off, with the same people, property and privileges. It was this Order which worked alongside Henry the Navigator in the 15th century and whose knowledge and financial backing aided his voyages of discovery. The knights became explorers in their own right with a remit to extend Portuguese influence in the world and to spread Christianity to these new lands.
These voyages and discoveries over the ages are represented in the enormous variety of architectural styles which adorn the castle and convent.After spending a few hours there, we walked through the old town however everything was closed as it was obviously now Siesta, so off we went to find a nice little restaurant for lunch. Tomar is such a pretty little town and the river that runs through it, the Nabão and the park just make it stand out from all the other towns we visited whilst in Portugal.
Next stop was Fatima, which according to the books is what Lourdes is to France and Bethlehem to Israel a place of pilgrimage where every good Catholic person want to visit. D went exploring and came across what was almost like the Vatican, however could not go in because they were having some kind of ceremony. Now I realise why almost every second Portuguese girl in my school was called Fatima or had it somewhere amongst all her names.
Overall I was not very impressed and spent the hour or so we were there going up and down the souvenir street, which was rather tacky to put it mildly. I couldn't wait to leave and get onto our next stop Batalha.
Batalha was not very far from Fatima, and driving into the town the first thing you see is the huge Medieval Gothic monastery absolutely stunning. It was getting late so we did not have time to explore too much and only went into the "Founders Chapel" which was completed in 1434, It contains the tombs of King João I and his English queen, Philippa of Lancaster (daughter of John of Gaunt), whose stone effigies lie in repose with their hands entwined. The tomb of their famous son, Prince Henry the Navigator, is nearby.
Very beautiful, however a 7 year old does not fully appreciate all this history and while D was snapping away and exploring I had to try and keep her from dying of boredom, with the heat from that I think she had already had 3 ice-creams but who's counting.
We eventually decided it was time to go home, it had been a long lovely day but now was time to depart. On our way we saw the sign for Nazare and I said that seeing as we were so close we may as well go and see it. However, driving into the town was a nightmare, it is obviously a very popular holiday destination and has wonderful beaches and restaurants, probably like Durban was in the late 70's, so we managed to bypass with out going in and took the scenic route home.
The next day was a well deserved rest day and then onto Sintra the following day, another palace and castle to explore - well in actual fact you probably need to spend a few days here and again not in the height of the summer tourist month, we only managed to see the palace in the middle of the town, so will return to do the castle someday.
The palace however was something else, the Palácio Nacional de Sintra, one wonders how many royal families there were in Portugal to have so many many palaces and Castles and not small ones either. It is the best preserved mediaeval Royal Palace in Portugal, having been inhabited more or less continuously at least from the early 15th up to the late 19th century. It is an important tourist attraction and is part of the Cultural landscape of Sintra, designated World Heritage Site by UNESCO. It also seems that every place we visited in Portugal has be designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
I enjoyed walking around this palace however once again Em was bored, which you can't blame her, going through the rooms one by one was eye opening, imagining the queen retiring to her bedroom whilst walking past this gigantic bed where once she slept, and the wardrobe that once housed her many fine clothes. The Swan room which was probably used for entertaining, the beautiful chandeliers that hung in huge ballrooms. The kitchen where copper pots and utensils still hang around the iron stove. All you can say is wow.