Alentejo plains, ALENTEJO

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TOMAR
CHRIST CONVENT
This is one of the most prestigious monuments of the country. It went through many alterations and artistic embellishments from the 12th to the 18th centuries. One enters through the west door of the castle and then goes down a long staircase with numerous elements dating from varied epochs. It has seven cloisters from every age, as well as many surrounding buildings.
The closer we get to the main structure more layers become apparent; the castle, the old church, and the horizontal masses of the white, typically Portuguese “plain style” convent building. Architectonically speaking, this group of buildings is that of distinction.

The main entrance at the heart of the group of buildings is found on the north part, decorated with Gothic, Renaissance and Manueline motifs. The central, most important nucleus, however, is the church, with its ambulatory and the annexed  Casa do Capítulo (Chapter House). Given the fact that, as did the rest of the buildings, it also suffered many refurbishments – with the Knights Templar, king Manuel I and Prince Henry, the Navigator – it ended up with a very unusual, tall and partially round shape, including the belfry and the annexed cubic building. Due to this irregularity, but also its over the top decoration, it is one of the most unique pieces of architecture in the whole Western world, from both the inside and out.

The ambulatory of the Convent’s church is utterly unique. The Knights Templar drew their inspiration from the Syrian churches they had seen across the Middle East when they often galloped after or ran from the Saracens. An ambulatory is a curved corridor that is found behind the man altar, and in this case it is a precious High Middle Ages sanctuary, formally akin to Jerusalem’s Omar Chapel. It is huge, and given the fact the church’s support area is rather small, the tension between the spaces is very great. This is truly an overwhelming site.

The most well known part of the Convent of Christ, its emblem, as it were, is undoubtedly the external window, facing the Claustro de Santa Bárbara (Cloister of Saint Bárbara). However, it is also a symbol of the Manueline style. If one needs to learn quickly what the Manueline style is, one just has to look attentively at this window (which would then go on to be copied in the Pena Palace, in Sintra): we have vegetation motifs mixed with maritime motifs such as ropes, hooks and armillary spheres. It is also a window of very large proportions. And even the lichen and moss that covers it gives it a rather lively aspect.

There are many, varied cloisters but the most important one is the one at the centre of the church, built as an annex. It is a masterpiece of Renaissance architecture. Built during king João II’s rule, it has two floors, and a clearly Classical Italian architectonic idiom: order, rigour, proportions, round arches, Doric columns on the ground floor and Ionic columns on the first floor… A large contrast to the fantasy-laden, lacework-filled Manueline style of the rest of the nucleus.
There are many other things to see in the Convent, from Manueline sculptures to the many chapels from the time of king João V. This place is full of light and colour, and ornamental joy. It is one of the most beautiful places in the world. 


It is inscribed on the Unesco Worls Heritage List. (9 am – 5 pm. €5. Free admittance Sundays and holidays until 2 pm).
KNIGHTS TEMPLAR CASTLE
The towers and the walls are strategically piled up one on top of the other, the most advanced form of structure of its times, actually. The castle was inspired by the typical castles that the Order of the Knights Templar built at the same time as in the Holy Land, with two wall defences brought together by both round and cubic towers that make up an outstanding defence.( Winter: 9 am - 5h30 pm; Summer: 9 am - 6 pm)
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