After thinking about last week’s list and searching through numerous photo collections for the pictures, I realized that I had another spot on the globe which could/should be included. Going to Tomar, Portugal, and seeing the Fortress, is really worth the trip.
I found the small Portuguese town by accident. I was doing Templar research for a novel, and the fortress at Tomar kept appearing, so I figured it would be a likely place as any for a story stop. I it added to the places I needed to research when I went to Europe, and have been happy that I did. The fortress ended up featuring prominently in my novel The Long Path.
Tomar is located about an hour north of Lisbon, literally at the end of a train line. Don’t be shocked if you get off the train and the place is empty, maybe a little overgrown. The train station sits on the edge of the old town section and is an easy walk to wherever you want to go in the city. It seems that most tourists are wandering into the old town section, and the way is well marked. The city of Tomar is basically split in two by the river that bisects it. The old town is on one side and modern Tomar is on the other side. The old town section is well maintained and worth exploring. For the sake of his post, I went to see the fortress, so this will be about the fortress.
The Fortress of Tomar has a commanding presence over the town and is visible from most everywhere you look. It sits high up on a stone outcrop above the city. There is a well maintained walking path that will take you, at a casual incline, up to the entry gate.
The pathways leading around and into the main fortress are wide and still well maintained. The cobble stone is quite easy to navigate when it is dry. I was there in the early fall, so the weather was accommodating. The walking path out of old town leads you to an exterior car park. You enter from the car park, through the main gate house and under the portcullis, to the wide entry seen above. A further gate secures the interior fortress wall. The whole structure is surprising well maintained.
Where the original Keep of the castle fortress has been destroyed, the monastery and the chapels, as well as the defensive fortifications are all still in good repair. Once a stronghold of the Portuguese Knight Templar order dating back to the 12th century, it was given over to the Knights of the Order of Christ when the Templar’s fell from grace. It became a catholic convent and still holds the proper name of the Convent of Christ.
The stronghold’s centerpiece is the Romanesque round church that occupies a central space in the main fortress area. The round church is said to be modelled after similar churches in Jerusalem, and has wide interior aisles so that the Templar knights could enter the church on horseback and receive their blessings before being off about whatever business commanded the day. Not to overstate the church, it is absolutely stunning.
The main church is surrounded by many structures that are remarkable. The grounds hold seven or eight cloisters, and blocks of cells for the monks, along with necessary administrative outbuildings. The open and welcoming nature of the Cemetery Cloister is a recommended stop. The blue ceramic tile that decorates the walls of the cloister and the associated chapel is still of fine quality. If you stay in the cloister for any amount of time, you can feel the Moorish influences that still permeate the region, independent of their current use in a Catholic structure.
The interior of the multi-story structure has many sentry towers and exterior walkways that give excellent views of the surrounding countryside. The rooftop areas of numerous structures are also open, so as to be utilized as outdoor areas. There are only a few sections of the fortress that are sectioned off for no entry. The vast majority of the complex is openly accessible and worth lingering in.
As seen above, the fortress commands an excellent position over the town and offers great views. I had assumed that this stop would turn out to be a day trip for some good information and photos of the structure. I ended up spending two days at the fortress, just taking in everything it had to offer. These pictures are the smallest of samples. The place is fantastic.
If you find yourself in Portugal, and somehow becoming bored by the Lisbon cityscape, a daytrip to Tomar may be a perfect alternative. It is easy to get to, it has several accommodation options to chose from, and there are many good restaurants in the old town. I stayed in a small boutique hotel by the river. It sat on it’s own little island, and was very charming.
I confess that I didn’t spend any time wandering around the modern sections of Tomar. I walked across the bridge and took pictures of the fire trucks, sitting outside the local fire department, but that was really about it. The old town has much to see. There is also a local tourist office located in the old town, just down the street from the train station, if you need maps or advice.
I found the town to be an excellent stop. Even though I was there was “Work”, I would still say that it’s definitely worth visiting. And as this is a blog for travelers that are not necessarily 20 anymore, the old town is small and easily walkable. The train station is on the opposite end of town from most of the hotels, but in reality it only takes about ten minutes to walk there. the walk up the hill to get to the fortress is relatively gentle on grade and not very strenuous. The restaurants on offer in the old town run the gambit, but it’s easy to find local fair that is above the backpacker pallet. I certainly didn’t have any trouble.
All in all, it’s easy to get to and has a wealth of history. The fortress has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1983. It is well worth your time. or, that’s my opinion on the matter.
Now, get out there. Go see stuff.