These lands were conquered by D. Afonso Henriques (the first king of Portugal) from the Moors, and given to the Knights Templar in 1159. Tomar was founded in 1160, and at this time the castle began being built by Gualdim Pais, Master of the Knights Templar, on a hill close to River Nabão, becoming the headquarters of the Knights Templar in Portugal. Named a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1983, this historical monument attracts curious and interested people from around the world.
The castle took on several important roles throughout history, from the defence against invasions from the Moors, to playing a strategic part in the Portuguese Discoveries.
The Convent of Christ within the castle’s walls reflects a variety of interesting architectural styles. The octogonal charola is one of its standout features — its construction was inspired by the rotunda of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, and its decoration reflects the wealth amassed by the Templars.
The Trays Festival takes place every 4 years in July and is one of Tomar’s most typical events, bringing amazing life and enthusiasm to the city. This festival of pagan origin is one of the oldest and renowned of the country. It was Christianised by Saint Elizabeth, Queen of Portugal, into the cult of the Holy Spirit.
It is an ancient celebration that invades the city’s streets with music, dancing, colour and joy. The highlight of the festivities is the parade of hundreds of women dressed in white carrying trays (of the same height of the girl who carries it) adorned with paper flowers, wheat and bread on their heads. At the top of the tray there is a Crown, topped with either the Cross of Christ or the Dove of the Holy Spirit. With their chaperones, they walk towards the main square, where they remove the trays from their heads symbolising the act of sharing.
In Tomar, Praça da República is the central point of the city, with its black and white pavement. It is where the church of St. John the Baptist is located, with its Manueline façade.
Rua Serpa Pinto is the city’s main street, leading to Praça da República. For pedestrians only, it is one of the busiest streets, with many cafés, restaurants and shops. Walking along this street towards the church of St. John the Baptist you can see the castle up ahead, looking over the city.
The Mata Nacional dos Sete Montes is also worth a visit, the largest park in Tomar. Also known as "fence" of the Convent (Cerca do Convento), it was once used by the Order of Christ. With its lush vegetation and miniature temple known as “Charolinha”, it is the perfect place to enjoy nature in a peaceful setting.
As is common across Portugal, Tomar is a city where its regional gastronomy plays a very important role. From its many specialties, such as blood and rice sausage, lamb, bean stew with snails and lamprey; to its typical sweets, such as the slices of Tomar — there are flavours for everyone!
There are also many excellent restaurants all around the city where you can try these and many other amazing dishes, prepared carefully and slow-cooked, according to traditional recipes!
13 km away from Tomar, Castelo de Bode Dam is a place worth visiting, due to its enormous beauty and variety of leisure activities. It’s large size allows it to provide water for the city of Lisbon. This area is visited by many people looking for an to escape to nature. The lake formed by the dam is used for windsurfing, sailing and sport fishing, to name only a few of the activities that can be enjoyed here.
Although located 20 km from Tomar, Almourol Castle deserves the detour. It was built on a small island on the River Tagus, close to the town of Constância, and evokes mystery and romance. Also built by Gualdim Pais, this castle is wrapped in legends and myths. Some believe it is haunted by the ghost of a princess in love who longs for her Moorish slave. It is possible to get to the island by taking the ferry from Constância or Tancos.