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).
The main shopping street, the pedestrian Rua Serpa Pinto, leads to the GOTHIC CHURCH OF SÃO JOÃO BAPTISTA, on Praça da República, the town's elegant main square surrounded by 17th-century buildings. The 15th century church has an elegant Manueline portal and inside are 16th century paintings, including a Last Supper by Gregório Lopes, one of the finest of the country's 16th century artists.
In the heart of town is a neat grid of streets, and on Rua Dr. Joaquim Jacinto is a well-preserved SYNAGOGUE, one of Portugal's oldest, built in 1430. It was last used as a place of worship in 1497, when King Manuel I expelled all Jews who refused to convert to Christianity.
Not too far is the 17TH-CENTURY CHURCH OF SÃO FRANCISCO with a MATCH MUSEUM in its former cloisters. It is an eccentric and interesting museum with the largest collection in Europe, displaying over 43,000 matchboxes from 104 countries.
On the east side of the river is a 13th-century church that was once the mother church for mariners in the Age of Discovery. The CHURCH OF SANTA MARIA DO OLIVAL has a Gothic façade and a distinctive three-story bell tower. Inside are the graves of Templar Masters and an elegant Renaissance pulpit.
On the hill leading up to the castle is the little Renaissance NOSSA SENHORA DA CONCEIÇÃO CHURCH, built in 1530 with a simple exterior but with elegantly carved Corinthian columns inside.
Across the old bridge is another small CHURCH, that of SANTA IRIA, the town's patron saint. She was a young nun who lived in Tomar in the 7th century, but was murdered and thrown into the river after a feud between two rival suitors, a nobleman and a monk. A legend says one of them gave her a potion to appear pregnant and the other killed her in a fit of rage. The church, built in the 16th century, has a coffered painted ceiling and 17th-century tiles.
The Order of the Knights Templar that helped the Portuguese fight the Moors in the 12th and 13th centuries were rewarded with extensive land and political power. King Dinis renamed it the Order of Christ and castles and churches were built to protect the Templars. One of those was the castle and convent of Tomar, one of Portugal's most brilliant architectural accomplishments that was built in 1162.
Visit the city of Thomar, you will not regret.
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