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Convento do Christo – The beautiful monastery and castle in Tomar, Portugal

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Joanna Horanin

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Last updated at 21/06/2024, 17:00

Hi, I'm Joanna, the author of The Blond Travels. In the worlds of Thailand and Portugal, I feel like a fish in water - and it's no coincidence! I've been exploring Thailand for over a decade, and I've settled in Portugal for 6 years now. My mission is to support Dreamers - just like you - in discovering these fascinating countries and helping those in love with them find their own place on Earth, preferably for good! Let's uncover these unique corners of the world together.

We went to Tomar, one of the nicer towns in central Portugal. We didn’t have a car, so we took the train there for a day. It took us a couple of hours to visit the Convento do Cristo – the Monastery of Christ – in Tomar, the biggest attraction there. I was surprised at how wonderful it is and how much there is to see. Check out how to visit the monastery in Tomar and whether it’s worth going there.

We arrived in Tomar at noon. The sun was already high up in the sky, so we quickly headed to the monastery and its gardens. I didn’t know very much about the building itself, but we quickly realized that you can see it from the outside, along with the adjacent gardens, and then the tour continues inside.

Wondering what to see and do in Tomar? Come with me. I’ll take you around the monastery and castle. Read on to find out more.

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    The history of the monastery in Tomar

    The Templar Order in Tomar is the city’s most important attraction. It was founded in 1159 at the initiative of King Afonso. The founder of the city was the Grand Master of the order, Gualdim Pais, whose statue stands in Republic Square in the center. The land surrounding Tomar has fertile soil and is excellent for farming. The river flowing past and the hills also provided good protection from the enemy.

    Old building in Tomar
    The monastery inside is beautiful.

    First a castle was built, which had a complex of buildings. To the south, a small village was created. Now there are orange trees there, which blend beautifully with the surroundings. On the hill, to the north, there was a Templar military base. To the west was the Master’s quarters, and to the east was the Charola Church, which was completed in 1190.

    In the 13th century, King Philip II, due to his indebtedness to the monks, decided to dissolve the order. The Templars, however, remained in Portugal. They only changed the name of the order to the Monastery of Christ.

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    In the 16th century, King Manuel I ordered the church to be extended to the west and added nautical motifs, and symbols of the Order of Christ, turning part of the building into a Manueline style.

    Soon after, a 6km-long aqueduct was also added to the monastery.

    The outside walls

    Castle walls, Tomar
    This castle can be visited from the outside for free.

    Once upstairs, the gardens can be accessed through a stone gate. You then enter immediately on the path leading to one of the church doors. They are closed, but it’s worth walking up to them to look at the Manualine style. This is the so-called Portuguese Late Gothic style, characterized by maritime elements associated with the period of geographic discovery.

    A big lime stone church in Tomar.
    This entrance is a perfect example of the Manueline style.

    The church is located right next to the walls and by Tomar Castle. There are paths leading along the walls. You can climb some of them and enjoy the view of the city and nearby areas from there.

    Tours of the walls and gardens are free.

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    The Charola Church

    Upon entering Tomar Monastery, we get right into the corridors and cloisters, which can be walked for a really long time. There are beautiful views from every point.

    The main room is the so-called Charola – a circular church from the 12th century. It used to be a private oratory of the Templars. From the outside, it has an octagonal shape that unfolded into 16 sides. At first, the entrance to Charola was from the east, but King Manuel I stretched the church and changed the entrance from the west. By his order, long stained-glass windows were also added, which let a lot of light into the rather dark interior.

    Two golden columns im a church with a cross.
    This church is oval and has a very unique floor plan.

    This place is perhaps the most beautiful of all in the entire order. Note the special column whose pillars join at the top, centrally above the altar.

    The Manueline nave and the Manueline window

    In the first half of the 15th century, during Henry the Sailor’s tenure as Grand Master, a Gothic nave was added to the church, thus creating the so-called apse, an indentation shaped like a sphere cut in half. King Manuel I ordered the nave to be decorated after the fashion of the time, that is, in the Manueline style, adding nautical elements and symbols of the monastery. The builders of the nave were Diogo de Arruda, and Juan de Castillo.

    A big carved window
    This window is the perfect example of the Manueline style.

    Another major attraction at the Tomar Monastery is the so-called Manueline Window (Janela de Capitulo). It is visible from the Cloister of Saint Barbara. It is beautifully decorated with symbols of Christ, King Manuel I, and nautical motifs such as ropes and cords. The author of this window is Diogo de Arruda, whose likeness probably adorns the base of the whole.

    The main part of the monastery in Tomar – The Cloister of John III

    A fountain in the middle of a square, surrounded by an old building in Tomar, Portugal.
    This is the central point of the monastery.

    This part of the building was rebuilt in the Renaissance style during the reign of John III. It is located outside the castle walls and surrounds the aisle mentioned earlier. With its architecture it stands apart from the rest of the building. For example, columns in the then fashionable Italian style were introduced here. The courtyard itself has a beautiful fountain in the middle. In the corners you’ll find small staircases, and above that a terrace where honeycombs were once dried.

    The Cloisters in the Tomar monastery

    The cloister of Tomar Monastery
    There are lots of cloisters to see in this monastery.

    The Monastery of Christ in Tomar conceals many cloisters. In the laundry cloister (Claustro de Lavagem), the monks washed and dried their habits. The cemetery cloister (Claustro do Cemitério) was, of course, where the monks were buried. The walls here are decorated with 16th century tiles. Diogo da Gama, brother of the famous Vasco da Gamma, rests here. The Cloister of Saint Barbara, from where you can admire the Manueline window, and the Cloister of John III, which I mentioned earlier.

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    The castle and monastery in Tomar – The opening hours

    The Order of Christ in Tomar is open from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. from October through May, and from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. (last entry at 6 p.m.) from June through October.

    The full ticket price is 10 euros. A 50% discount is given to pensioners, and people over 65, people between 13 and 24, families – 2 or more people, where there is one adult and one minor.

    On Sundays and holidays, residents of Portugal have free admission.

    Be prepared for a couple of hours of sightseeing.

    How to get there?

    You can get to Tomar by train from Lisbon. There is one train around 9am from Santa Apolonia station. Check tickets here. You can stay in Tomar, for example, until 5:30 pm, when the train back to Lisbon leaves. The trip takes 2-3 hours. You can also stay there overnight. Check prices for accommodation.

    From the station to the castle and Christ Monastery is not far. The pedestrian road is a bit steep and is covered with cobblestones, so wear comfortable shoes.

    It’s certainly faster to get to Tomar by car. The highways in Portugal are toll roads, but they drive very well. Check out how to rent a car in Portugal. You can drive to the monastery almost right up to the building and leave your car in the parking lot.

    You can also buy a guided tour. I think if you care to learn something interesting, this will definitely be a super option.

    A trip to Tomar and the Monastery of Christ in Tomar would be a great way to spend time in Portugal. It is a beautiful city, and the monastery and castle itself are truly awe-inspiring places. Head there for a day or a whole weekend and learn more about Portugal’s history.