Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Tomar's Convent of Christ

World Heritage Sites




Fashioning an itinerary around a country's World Heritage Sites is always a winner to the traveler who (like myself) gets overwhelmed by the abundance of guidebooks and web sites when planning a trip.  Where should I go?  What should I do?  I only have three weeks.  Aarrghh!  On a trip to Portugal, that is what we ended up doing--following the World Heritage Site Trail.  It took us to the town of Tomar and to the Convent of Christ, the headquarters of the Knights Templar, which was built in the early 12th century by the Grand Master himself.

The Order of the Knights Templar was founded in 1119 by a group of French knights who vowed to protect the Holy Land from marauding Muslims.  Although the knights took vows of poverty and chastity, they were quickly rewarded land, castles and titles by the pope for their success.  They were sent to Portugal to expel the Moors who were occupying that country.  They soon grew very rich and very powerful.   So much so, that in 1314, Pope Clement V had the knights arrested and the order's last Grand Master was burned at the stake.  In Portugal, the order was re-established as the Order of Christ.  Prince Henry the Navigator was its most famous Grand Master, from 1417 to 1460.

The original 16-sided church was based on the design of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.  The main aisle circles a gorgeous altar.  The walls are covered with paintings of the life of Christ.  Over the next six centuries, many additions were made and today, the church is considered a masterpiece of Manueline art.  Although influenced by Gothic and Moorish architecture, it is its elaborate floral-marine stonework that makes it uniquely Portugueuse.  This church was added to the World Heritage list in 1983.

We spent an entire day here being architectural detectives.  Going up and down and in and out of the cloisters is great fun.  There's so much to see and study that it truly takes a full day to really soak it all in.  There is a wonderful cafe on site.  We took a break with espresso and a thick slice of chocolate cake.  Ah, yes, you can't go wrong when you follow the World Heritage Site Trail!
    

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