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Tomar, Portugal
The new International HQ of the Knights Templar Order (OSMTH-I)


Seeing as Tomar is now our permanent home of the International Order I asked Peter if he could give us a write up of the place so that when any Knights and Dames visit they could take advantage of a tour of the area.  Here is the article he provided.

One of the best kept secrets in Portugal is the ancient Knights Templar city of Tomar in central Portugal. It is a one hour drive north, by highway, from Lisbon Airport. But the slightly longer journey by National Road, past nesting storks and flamingoes, takes you through the fertile heart of rural Portugal. Tomar sits on the Nabão River once used by the Knights Templar Order to irrigate their extensive lands. As you enter the town you can see the replica Arab water wheel turning on the Nabão, reminding us that for over 400 years Islam dominated this part of Europe.


Arabic Waterwheel

Now the International home of OSMTH, Tomar, is aiming to become known as the Knights Templar capital of the world. Everywhere one goes in Tomar there are obvious signs of the links to the Templars. Everywhere is the Cross of both the Knights Templar Order and the Order that replaced them, the Order of Christ. This year Tomar held its first 'Festa Templária' a three day spectacular medieval festival. The main event, a torch lit parade led by mounted Knights, was stunning. The Festa Templária will now be an annual event with the next one taking place in May 2014.


Festival

Tomar was founded by the Romans as Selium. The Romans took the land from the ancient Lusitanians and eventually the Visigoths took it from the Romans. By then the Visigoths had been converted to Christianity and they built at least one church in Tomar. But only 50 miles from Southern Portugal another mighty religion was waiting its turn. After conquering the whole of the Middle East and North Africa at lightning speed, Islam was preparing to invade Christian Europe.

By the year 732 the Moors, as the Islamic forces were known, had swept through Spain and Portugal and southern France. Then at a battle at Poitiers in central France they were halted.  One of the most influential figures of the day, Charles Martel, the Hammer of the Franks, routed the Moorish army. The Moors retreated back to Northern Spain which became the border between the Christian North and the Muslim South for the next 400 years. Other than its impact upon art, architecture and language there is little to day to remind us of Tomar's Moorish past. But much of that is due to the 16th Century Inquisition's attempt to 'air brush' the huge influence of both Moors and Jews on Portugal and the rest of the world.

Around the end of the 11th Century the Christian kingdoms started the push south known as the Reconquest. This gradual re-Christianisation of Muslim dominated southern Spain and all Portugal would take several centuries to accomplish.  The process produced a number of larger than life figures. One of whom was Gauldim Pais, Grand Master of the Knights Templar Order in Portugal. Gauldim Pais had fought in the Holy land with the Knights Templar Order and he was a formidable warrior. Having been in many battles in the 'Reconquest' he arrived in Tomar in the year 1157.  Three years later he began the building of the Templar fortress and Church that still stands today at the summit of the hill overlooking  the town.

Gualdim Pais and the Knights Templar Order and their successors the 'Knights of the Order of Christ' built many fine castles and churches. Many of which still exist today. But the most outstanding of them all is Tomar Castle and the Convent of Christ which lies within its walls. Designated a 'World Heritage Monument' by UNESCO in 1983 it is the most stunning and best preserved Knights Templar site anywhere in the world.

Covering a vast expanse the ancient castle with its honey coloured walls is an amazing sight. Particularly when the rays of the setting sun seem to set its walls ablaze. As you enter through the castle gate the sight of the incredible round Charola church takes your breath away. As you pause and savour the tranquility and fragrance from the wonderful surrounding gardens you know you are in a special place. And it is a very special place. Particularly for Knights Templars. 

You enter the Convent, not actually as the name suggests for nuns, but a place of worship for the Templars. Inside are what seems like endless beautifully tiled cloisters. Wandering through the building, looking in the now mostly empty rooms, the sheer size and magnificence is overwhelming. Amid the plethora of astonishing architecture and with the sheer weight of Knights Templar history threatening to blow your mind, you need to stop from time to time to let it all sink in. Then you really do have your mind blown. Not once but twice. First when you see the vast window known as the 'window of the discoveries'. Constructed in the 16th century by King Manuel of Portugal it is a masterpiece of classical late gothic architecture. Said to celebrate the Portuguese discoveries of America and the Far East you can stand for hours taking in its intricate carvings. A true wonder of the world.

Next to blow your mind is the ultimate 'Wow Factor' of the convent. The Knights Templar Charola. Words don't do justice to this incredible Knights Templar building. Constructed in the 12th century and said to be a replica of the church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem it is both visually stunning and deeply moving. On certain holy days the Knights of the Temple Order would ride in to the Charola on horseback. With its magnificent 15th and 16th century paintings and frescos on top of the original 12th century Templar architecture it is one of those places you have to visit at least once in your life time.

Beyond the Convent of Christ Tomar offers a host of buildings and structures connected to the Knights Templar Order and its successors. Not least is the former pantheon church of Santa Maria do Olival where the Grand Masters of the Knights Templar Order were buried. Connected to the Castle by tunnels it is said to have once been the repository for the Holy Grail. Is there any truth in this? No one can be certain but there is an ancient engraving of a grail on a flagstone inside the church. And for some reason the church authorities don't like people moving the bench which always seems to cover it.

Further afield the number of ancient castles, abbeys, Templar watchtowers and commanderies within an hour's drive from Tomar is huge. It would take at least a week to visit them all. Which is exactly how long the most extensive tour run by the Knights Templar Tours partnership takes. A partnership between Caminhos da Historia managed by a Knight of the Order of OSMTH, João Fiandeiro and Peter Moore of Templar Knights of Tomar. 


Convent of Christ, Tomar

Peter, who is now a Scout in OSMTH, first came to Tomar with his wife, Sylvia, in 2001. Sylvia, a medieval historian, had been commissioned to write a guide to the Knights Templar of Tomar. They both fell in love with the Historic Templar City and its beautiful, tranquil, countryside. They bought a house near the lovely nearby Zezerè River and turned their love of Knights Templar History in to a business. Working with João, who has a Masters Degree in Tourism and is an expert on the Portuguese Knights Templar Order, they now run Knights Templar tours lasting from between 1 and 7 days. Anyone interested in what they have to offer can visit their web site at www.templarknights.eu. Or email Peter at templarstomar@aol.com


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