The Convent of Christ in Tomar and Obidos in Central Portugal
Our spiritual odyssey of Central Portugal takes us to our next destination to the Convent of Christ in the medieval town of Tomar. Rising high above the town on a hill, the formidable castle-convent dominates the landscape with its imposing rampart and towers. Its massive structure evokes an air of power and authority with its fortified defence position. This travel article on the Convent of Christ in Tomar and the medieval town of Obidos is the second of 2 posts on our journey through Central Portugal.
The Convent of Christ in Tomar
Once inside the castle gate, it looks like as if the convent (refers to monastery in Portugal) has grown out of the castle in a strange architectural style. It is an eclectic combination of Romanesque, Gothic, Manueline and Renaissance design as each incumbent ruler added his own preferred style. It is an awe-inspiring building and one of the most impressive I have ever visited. It was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983. The castle was built in 1160 as a stronghold for the Knights Templar as a defence against the invading Moors. Concerned at the growing power and riches of the Knights Templar, the Pope dissolved the order in 1314 and designated the Order of Christ in 1319 in its place and moved its headquarters to Tomar. Henry the Navigator became the Grand Master of the Order of Christ. He was credited for initiating the Age of Discoveries in the 15th century that put Portugal on the map as the greatest navigator of the world of that era. Tomar was hailed as the “historical jewel of Portugal” during that time as it was the chosen residence of the Portuguese kings.
The castle and convent complex is a splendid emblematic monument of Knights Templar architecture embellished with Gothic towers, sculptures, gargoyles and ornate naves, arches, chapels and cloisters. The castle-convent combination is a mysterious and fascinating maze of dark rooms and halls including the historic living quarters of the monks who used to reside there. It is enthralling to peek into their now empty dormitory, their dining room and kitchen to get an insight into their frugal lives.
The most beautiful part is the Charola or Rotunda, a round church with a magnificent central octagonal structure supported by eight Romanesque columns with arches branching out to the surrounding gallery adorn with exquisite religious paintings. Awesome masterpieces of artwork and iconography in glorious gilded colours portray Biblical scenes, angels, saints, vegetal and animal motifs influenced by Moorish, Byzantine and western style. The design of the church was inspired by similar round religious buildings in Jerusalem. In the west wing is an ornately sculptured window known as the Window of the Chapter House (Janela do Capitulo) showcasing nautical theme to illustrate the sea-faring power of the Portuguese during the Age of Discoveries. It bears the symbol of the Order of Christ and King Manuel I. It showcases the masterpieces of Manueline decorations. It was said to be the most ornate window in the world.
Obidos : A Town Fit For A Queen
Our last stop is in the medieval town of Obidos, a walled city once occupied by the Roman and the Moors who built an imposing castle on a hill that lords over the town. A maze of narrow cobbled streets wind through the town passing through Rua Direita, the main street, that is wall to wall with souvenir shops, cafes and restaurants leading to the castle that is now a pousada (iconic inns that are housed in heritage buildings). Obidos is known as the town of Queens after King Afonso II bestowed the town to his wife Queen Urraca in 1210 and thereafter many Portuguese queens had patronised it. The citadel is accessed through an impressive town gate housing an oratory with a balcony decorated with ornate Azulejo tiles depicting the Passion of Christ. A 15th century granite Pillory stands just after the gate and is said to symbolise the power and independence of the municipal. It bears a shield with the Royal Coat of Arms. Criminals used to be tied to the Pillory for public humiliation and punishment.
The town hosts famous festivals throughout the year and the literary festival is in town when we are there. Books by famous authors are on sale in marquees. An old unused chapel is converted into a delightful library stacked high with books. Obidos is famous for its yearly chocolate festival (31 March to 25 April 2016) where thousands of people descend upon the town to sample the sweet sensation and desserts. The town is also famous for its annual Medieval Fair (14 July to 7 August 2016) that recreate a lively medieval festivals of food, entertainment with wizards, court jesters, musicians, dancers and jousting knights.
Central Portugal is a hidden gem packed full of medieval cities of enchanting castles, convents, churches and very warm and friendly people who love sharing their culture and heritage with visitors. For an inspiring experience of authentic Portugal, this is the place to be.
Convent of Christ in Tomar is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Visit http://www.centerofportugal.com for further information of Central Portugal. For a tailored-made tour of Central Portugal, contact Madomis Tours. TAP Portugal flies directly from London Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester to Lisbon 60 times a week; return fares starting at £121 including all taxes and surcharges. For further information, visit http://www.flytap.com or call +44 (0)345 601 0932.
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