The castle was built in 1160 as a stronghold for the Knights Templar as a defence against the invading Moors. Concerned at the growing power and riches of the Knights Templar, the Pope dissolved the order in 1314 and designated the Order of Christ in 1319 in its place and moved its headquarters to Tomar.
Once inside the castle gate, it looks like as if the convent (refers to monastery in Portugal) has grown out of the castle in a strange architectural style. It is an eclectic combination of Romanesque, Gothic, Manueline and Renaissance design as each incumbent ruler added his own preferred style.
Henry the Navigator became the Grand Master of the Order of Christ. He was credited for initiating the Age of Discoveries in the 15th century that put Portugal on the map as the greatest navigator of the world of that era.
Tomar was hailed as the “historical jewel of Portugal” during that time as it was the chosen residence of the Portuguese kings.
The castle and convent complex is a splendid emblematic monument of Knights Templar architecture embellished with Gothic towers, sculptures, gargoyles and ornate naves, arches, chapels and cloisters. The castle-convent combination is a mysterious and fascinating maze of dark rooms and halls including the historic living quarters of the monks who used to reside there. It is enthralling to peek into their now empty dormitory, their dining room and kitchen to get an insight into their frugal lives.
The most beautiful part is the Charola or Rotunda, a round church with a magnificent central octagonal structure supported by eight Romanesque columns with arches branching out to the surrounding gallery adorn with exquisite religious paintings. Awesome masterpieces of artwork and iconography in glorious gilded colours portray Biblical scenes, angels, saints, vegetal and animal motifs influenced by Moorish, Byzantine and western style. The design of the church was inspired by similar round religious buildings in Jerusalem.
In the west wing is an ornately sculptured window known as the Window of the Chapter House (Janela do Capitulo) showcasing nautical theme to illustrate the sea-faring power of the Portuguese during the Age of Discoveries. It bears the symbol of the Order of Christ and King Manuel I. It showcases the masterpieces of Manueline decorations. It was said to be the most ornate window in the world:
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