Exploring Tomar, Portugal

We spent only one night in our hotel in Tomar. We checked out the hotel in the morning and headed up the hill in the bus to the Convento de Cristo.

We passed a roundabout in the town on the way to our destination with the following display, symbolic of the Festival of Trays that is held in Tomar once every four years. The festival is to be celebrated this year. Surprisingly, I have not found a location in the Internet with a picture of the roundabout that I have photographed below, although the display can be seen in Google Street view. This is a video from the 2019 celebration. The city appears to come alive during this time! And there are also many people involved in the tray balancing action!

It was a very short drive to Convento de Cristo. It used to be the home of The Knights Templar first, and then the Order of Christ.

The Knights Templars came into being in the early 12th century to protect the pilgrims going to Jerusalem. It was a military order but it included monks. They became powerful over time with the official support of the Catholic church. They expanded into other areas during their existence. They became like a bank for pilgrims, and eventually expanded their banking and lending activities in other domains. They took ownership of properties and businesses of different kinds. They helped Portugal fight the Moors. They also expanded their sphere of influence to the countries of exploration by the Europeans. There were only 9 members when they started. There were about 20000 members at their peak.

There was a room with a impressive roof near the entrance. I have not been able to find the original purpose of this room.

We explored a couple of the many cloisters in this space while Rui spoke more to us about the people who inhabited this place in the past. The cloisters were supposed to be places of quiet and seclusion, where you kept to yourself for the most part. It seems like different cloisters in this place served different functions. This is a picture of the cemetery cloister, apparently a burial site for knights and monks.
This a a picture is of the laundry cloister, where the washing was done.

We next visited another room with an impressive ceiling. This is called the new Sactristy room.

The next place we visited was the round church (Charola do Convento de Cristo)! Rui presented this room to us as a surprise – an element of the tour that you were not expecting that was supposed to take your breath away. And, indeed, this was a unique, grand and imposing room in spite of its smaller floor space. The architectural style in this space is called Manueline. Apparently it is considered a form of gothic architecture. Charola is Portuguese for Rotunda.

We then passed one more cloister, the main cloister (I have seen different names on the Internet: King João III Cloister, The Royal Cloister, The Renaissance Cloister), and then the dining and kitchen area. Here are pictures from this part of the visit.

From one of the cloisters that we visited towards the end (most likely the St. Barbaras Cloister), near the entrance to the facility, we could see the renovation work that was going on on the main building.
We were supposed to see the Chapter House Window (Janela do Capítulo) of this building up close but that was also under renovation. This window is supposed to be a good representation of Manueline architecture. They had hung up a representative picture at its original location instead.

This picture was taken in the space around another one of the cloisters we visited – the Micha Cloister.

The Knights Templar were finally eliminated by King Philip and Pope Clement V (under false charges, it seems) because they became too powerful. (I believe Rui mentioned that the King had to borrow from the Knights Templar to finance the management of his kingdom, and had trouble paying them back.) The Templars themselves were hunted and persecuted viciously in some countries (including burning at the stake!).

The Order of Christ came into being after the end of Kinghts Templar under the aegis of Dom Denis I. Rui called it “Rebranding” The rebranded organization occupied the Convento de Cristo. Some people also transitioned between the two organizations.

After our visit to the Convento de Cristo, we drove back down the hill to the town of Tomar to spend some time there.

We first walked through the narrow alleyways towards Jewish section of town. We were told that Jewish folks came to Tomar at the time of Carthaginians, before the Romans. ((I could not find any independent online confirmation of this. Indications are that most of them came during the middle ages.) Unfortunately, I did not take a picture of our visit to the synagogue. There was a group of children who were having a lesson in this space when we arrived.

The Jews formed a significant portion of the population of the city for some time during the middle ages.

We wandered around town exploring the sights before returning to the bus.

The square in the first picture above is called the Praca da Republica. The church in the second picture is the Igreja de Sao Joao Baptista. The tuk-tuk in the fifth picture is available for a tour of the aqueduct that used to supply the convent with water. This aqueduct was built as recently as the 17th century. I used to think that all aqueducts were from roman times.

Before departing the town of Tomar, we had a little bit of time to walk to the Nabao river to take pictures.The waters of this river eventually feed into one of the major rivers of Portugal, the Tagus.

Helder drove past us in the empty bus on his way to the pickup point while we were walking along the rive to the same location. He was kind enough to pick us up on the way – before the others boarded the bus!

We are next traveling to the town of Castelo de Vide for lunch.

On to Fatima and Tomar

Our next stop was at the pilgrimage center of Fatima, on our way to Tomar – the place we would be staying at that night.

We saw this amusing advertisement beside the highway as we were approaching the town of Fatima.We were told that the city of Fatima, in its current state of development, did not exist until only recently. The city seems to have built up around the center for pilgrimage. Perhaps the above is a sign that the town has finally arrived. (I think I also saw a Burger King on the map!)

We were told the story of the name of the town of Fatima on our way in.

My first impression of the Sanctuary of Fatima was about how massive the open space is. It is said to be much bigger than St. Peters Square in Vatican City.There are three edifices that anchor this space – two basilicas and and a chapel. The Chapel of the Apparitions is at the location of the original church where the apparitions took place. The Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary is the older church, from the 1950s, that dominates the entire space with its size and its sweeping colonnades. The newer Basilica of the Holy Trinity was built as recently as 2004.

The other impression that one gets is that this space appears to be quite “modern” and does not reflect the kind of medieval Portugal that we have been traveling through thus far. You then remember that the events at Fatima took place in the early 20th century. You realize that you are dealing with events that happened recently – relatively speaking. Some of the events of those days are still under scrutiny and there are still developments in this regard today. One may even be able to recognize and understand the mood, the culture, the politics, etc.., of those times – similar to today’s in certain ways. Canonization (sainthood) for two of the children who encountered the miracles happened only in 2017, and is still ongoing at this time for Sr. Lucia, their cousin. Sr. Lucia only died in 2005 at the age of 97.

This is a closer picture of the chapel.

These are pictures of the Basilica of the Rosary.

This is a picture of the newest church in the sanctuary, the Basilica of the Holy Trinity.The church looks rather cold, and perhaps even forbidding, from the distance, but as more of the details reveal themselves to you as you approach it, it becomes more approachable and inviting. I really liked the inside of the church. In spite of the size, it was felt very peaceful and looked simple, a space that could be used for contemplation and prayer. The space can accommodate about 8000 pilgrims. it is humongous.

The presence of the devotees over the entire space of the sanctuary is notable. You will find them walking from one end of the space to the other in prayer.

Catching one’s attention was the pilgrimage on the knees undertaken by some devotees in the open space of the sanctuary:

The first of the two pictures above is the sign for the PRAYER BEFORE THE PILGRIMAGE ON KNEES, at the location where this devotion begins.
(From the Google Translate app…)
Holy Trinity Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I adore you profoundly.

My heart exults for the many benefits you have bestowed upon me. Help me to repair the evil of my sins with good. Accept this pilgrimage on your knees to the blessed place where Mary communicated to us the certainty of Your Love.

For this sacrifice I implore the blessing of forgiveness on poor sinners so that all, open to the message of the Gospel, may enjoy peace in the present time and one day reach eternal joys. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.


By then it was time to depart Fatima to head out to Tomar, a town that was quite close by. We got a distant view of the Convent of Christ as we approached the town.We were going to visit the convent the next day. We were staying at the Hotel of The Knights Templar for the night. The view from our hotel was of the park and the Nabao river. It looked nice in the evening light.

After checking in, we settled down for a drink at the bar. We then headed out to the dining room of the hotel for dinner. Dinner was a little disorganized as they kept running out of different items on the buffet tables at different times.

After dinner, we went for a walk in the park. It was quite chilly outside by then!

The Convent of Jesus, the place that we were going to visit the next day, was visible from the park, and even from our hotel room.


We returned a few days ago from a visit to Portugal. We were on an organized tour exploring the country from north to south, starting from the city of Porto and ending up in Lisbon. We stopped at many interesting places along the way, learning about the country, and experiencing it. We spent hours wandering leisurely through narrow old cobblestone streets of many an old medieval town, streets that were lined with old buildings of character – with their distinctive metal railings and the occasional laundry hanging out to dry. We also visited bigger and more developed cities and experienced the difference between the new and the old. There is something fundamentally similar about the tourist experience wandering the streets of both the older and newer towns in Portugal regardless.

We visited many old churches – in different styles, monasteries with their dormitories and cloisters, palaces, and castles – all over the country. We even passed through a national park, drank many a bottle of wine with our meals, and also sampled the unique cuisine of this small country, which we were told was about the size of Maine! We learnt about their history, which perhaps bears some similarity to the history of many other countries in Europe – the movement of people, the conquests, the local kings and queens and their kingdoms, the development of nation states, the nature of their explorations of the rest of the world, etc.. We learnt about the kind of things – their stories, products, etc.. – that are a part of their culture and their economy.

The towns that we visited were typically full of tourists just like us. The towns centers and their squares were full of shops for tourists, cafes, bakeries, ice cream stands and restaurants – with outdoor seating under the large umbrellas that provided shade. There were the street entertainers. There was generally a atmosphere that I typically do not experience when visiting towns in the US. I especially enjoyed having that cold beer with my lunch, perhaps concluding the lunch with a shared dessert and a cup of espresso.

And, all along the way, there were other unique experiences and quirky stories that added additional sparkle and spice to our travels.

One has to eventually breakdown the details of these travels further, but a list of the places we visited, with a few sample pictures is perhaps a good place to start.

Porto and Gaia

Guimaraes and Braga

Bussaco Park and Palace Hotel




The Convent of Christ on the Hill

Castelo de Vide



Cascais and Sintra

Alcobaca, Nazare and Castelo de Óbidos

They have a saying in Portugal that the Portuguese go to Porto to work, Braga or Fatima to pray, Coimbra to study and Lisboa to party! They have it all covered!

It was a fun trip, and quite a different experience from that of the trip to Morocco.