Located 100 km north of Lisbon in the most fertile region of Portugal (Ribatejo), Tomar is a historic city worth to visit.Tomar inhabitants are called “Nabantinos” as the ancient Roman city in this exact location was called “Nabantia”.After the conquest of the region from the Moors by the Portuguese, the land of Tomar was granted to the Order of the Knights Templar in 1159. In 1160, Gualdim de Pais, the fourth Master of the Knights Templar, started to build the Castle and the Monastery. The medieval town was built inside these walls, under the protection of the Castle. Centuries later, the town expanded outside the walls from the top of the hill to the banks of the River Nabão.
Tomar is a charming and historically outstanding town on the banks of the Nabão River. It is dominated by a 12th-century Templar castle containing one of the country’s most significant and impressive monuments, the Convent of Christ (declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO).
What to do In Tomar
The most outstanding monument to be seen is Tomar is the Convent of Christ, which is a historical description of the Portuguese architectural styles from the 12th to the 18th centuries, with special emphasis on the late gothic and the unique style of Manueline. This style diversity offers the visitor an opportunity to enjoy a unique architectural itinerary through history.
The gothic church of Santa Maria do Olival dates back to the early 13th century, and is said to have been built on the site of 7th century Benedictine monastery. This church was considered as the Mother Church of the Templar in Portugal and here was originally the pantheon of the Order of the Knights Templar. Inside still are the graves of the past Templar Masters. The church has a detached square tower facing the main façade with a triple archivolts portico and the church has three naves.
The Manueline church of Sâo João Baptista is the main church of Tomar, located in the main square (Republic Square) and was built in 1510 during the staying of Manuel I in Tomar. The main façade has two entrances and exhibits a flamboyant Gothic portal. A three storey Manueline tower with a 16th century clock completes the main side of the church. The church has three naves with decorated capitals in the inner columns, and a set of 16th century panels by the Portuguese artist Gregório Lopes may be admired, specially a “Last Supper” painting.
The 17th-century church of São Francisco houses a Match Museum (“Museu dos Fósforos”) in its former cloisters. It is quite an unique Museum of this kind with the largest collection in Europe, exhibiting over 43,000 matchboxes from 104 countries.
The Synagogue of Tomar is actually the best-preserved medieval synagogue of Portugal. The synagogue was built in the mid 15th century, between 1430 and 1460,and has four towers and a Gothic vaulted ceiling and columns with classic capitals. Since 1939, the synagogue houses the small Jewish Museum Abraão Zacuto, a famous 15th century astronomer and mathematician, which exhibits an interesting set of pieces related to Jewish history in Portugal.
Near Tomar, just about 20 km south, is located the Templar Castle of Almourol, built on a little island in the middle of the Tagus River. The castle was established on 1171 by Gualdim Pais, the fourth Master of the Order of the Knights Templar. The towers and wall are quite well preserved and its possible to visit it taking a small boat. The location of the castle inspired a number of legends. One tells about the ghost of a princess that haunts the castle sighing for the love of her Moorish slave.
What to eat in Tomar
In Tomar it is possible to taste a variety of flavours visiting several excellent restaurants.
The main dishes are roast kid, rice morcela with vegetables, lamprey with sauce made of its own blood. Especially in the winter, lamprey and kid are the main dishes in the restaurant menus. Between February and March, restaurants compete for the best lamprey dishes. The kid is a Easter tradition in Portugal and it is usually roasted with potatoes, sprinkled with almonds and spring greens.
Since 1997, in the middle of May, Tomar has held a Soup Conference, where the visitor may teste a variety of soups presented by local restaurants.
Traditional sweet dishes are among the magnificent delicacies, such as Slices of Tomar, Fresh Cheese Pudding, Nuts of Eggs, Sweet Cheese, “Kiss me Quick”, and Cakes of Bed.
Local red wines produced by the local cooperative vinery (Adega Cooperativa de Tomar) are of excellent quality. White wines are also produced in the region.