We had a slow start today. It was good not to rush and the weather is fine and warm. We started up the hill to the castle or rather the Convento de Cristo, a complex of chapels, cloisters and medieval castle showing the wealth and power of the Knights Templars. It had been founded in 1160 by the grand master of the Knights Templars and after they were banned by Pope Clement V in 1314 they were renamed by the King of Portugal as the Order of Christ and inherited all the Templars’ lands. It is a magnificent place and has the most fabulous Charola ( the Templars Church) which is a round chapel with ornate gilt and statues and paintings but no specific altar. There were wonderful chapels with Portuguese tiles, cloisters for washing, the bread cloister, the cloister of crows and the cemetery cloister. There are dormitories and we were fascinated to find a room that had a fire to provide heating to the monks’ cells. It must have been a furnace to work in because the place is huge and there were more than 80 monks cells. The original Templar castle had been extended and embellished in the manueline style which has ornate flourishes. We could have spent another hour exploring but the car needed to be shifted so we left to collect it and went out to see the aqueduto dos Pegões (aqueduct) which the Monks built to provide water to the castle. It was very impressive.
We returned to town to find a free car park this time and then explored the old Tomar visiting the oldest Synagogue in Portugal. It was tiny and when the Jews were banished the King , who actually had great respect for the Jewish people but for political reasons had to evict them from the county, chose to turn it into a prison in which no Jew should ever be incarcerated, then it became a wharehouse and eventually fell into disrepair. Most synagogues at the time were converted to churches or pulled down which is why this one is unique. There are only two Jewish families and not enough men for them to actively use it now but if they get the minimum of 10 it would function again as a Synagogue.
We then visited the matchbox collection museum. It is the biggest in the world and incredibly diverse with matchboxes from all over the world-even Australia. There were ones with the alphabet, animals, historic events, flags, national icons, and some decidedly politically incorrect saucy ones. It was quite fascinating. Opposite the matchbox museum was a studio of artists painting tiles and ceramics. They were all women and some had been painting for 33 years. They were very skilful and we recognised some tiles painted like those in the chapels in the Convento de Cristo, along with portraits and angels etc. Anne saw the sweetest and yet elegant, modern nativity scene but thought they would break if we tried to send them home. The painter I was talking with said the postage was too dear too because they were only €6.
Next was an exhibition of works by Pedro Valdez Cordoso in the Centre of Art and Image, Art Gallery of the Polytechnic Institute of Tomar. It was very odd work, quite provocative and themed around issues of sexuality and homosexuality and faces being masks. It was run by two students who were very eager to give us an English explanation. We might have been their only visitors!
Our next stop was the Municipal art gallery which was small but well set up. It had three floors of renowned Portuguese artists from the 50′ through to the 70′. There were two very large modern sculptures that I found very eye catching. By now we were walked out and returned to the apartment to meet Bill. He has come down with a cold and was feeling miserable so he had decided to rest.
It was quite late when we went to dinner at an Italian trattoria. Not having high expectations of the food we were very pleasantly surprised. Everything was delicious and the wine was good. To round off a great evening we happened on some juggler/mime comedians in the town square who were absolutely enchanting, amusing and witty. We laughed and clapped and felt so lucky to have stumbled on them.
We had been fascinated by the ladies downstairs in a shop who were making paper flowers and had been seeing the signs for the festival of trays. On further investigation we found out that this festival involves young people, dressed in white and red, wearing trays of bread and flowers on their heads that are topped with a symbol of the Holy Spirit. The streets are also decorated with flowers too and their are games and music in the park all in honour of the Holy Spirit. The whole community gets involved and there is a procession and fireworks as a finale. People come from all around and other countries to see and the city swells to over 100,000. It would be pumping then!
We have enjoyed the slower pace and despite Bill’s cold we are all feeling more rested.