24/04/2011 and 26/04/2011
Easter weekend was spent with Raquel’s family in her hometown of Fatima. It was a good relaxed weekend with one touristy activity: going to the town of Tomar for coffee after Sunday lunch. Tomar is in the Ribatejo region of Portugal. It’s a central province famous for horse rearing and Portuguese bull fighting and also home to some of the most fertile land in the country where the towns are the only interruption in the green landscape.
Tomar itself is famous for its hilltop castle and monastery (with circular Templar church). Unfortunately as we visited on Easter Sunday, the castle and monastery were closed. It was a pity that we missed out on that as I would have loved to go up and see it, but instead, we just ended walking around the town. The town itself is the typical picturesque Portuguese with main square surround by a church and a municipal building where all decisions were and are made.
Tomar is also quite significant for its Templar heritage as it was the last Templar town to be commissioned for construction. Tomar was especially important in the 15th century when it was a centre of Portuguese overseas expansion under Henry the Navigator, the Grand Master of the Order of Christ, successor organization to the Templars in Portugal.
This Templar heritage is not only present within the castle but also in the stone pavements of the town. Usually pavements in Portugal are quite intricate and with patterns, but in the case of Tomar the pavements have the Templar Cross embedded into them which make them somewhat different from other towns and cities. Our short trip to Tomar was over, but two days later we were back in the Ribatejo to be tourists again.
Our trip to Tomar was followed, on another day by a drive through the Ribatejo countryside. Our drive was suspended for a quick stop in Golegã. The town is known as the capital of the horse as the area is famous for horse breeding. This very traditional town was one of my favourites in the region for simplistic and rustic beauty. It was also in this area we visited a quinta(country estate), owned by the wealthy in the region. These estates cover a large area but the estate houses are usually quite simple, rustic houses and more often than not have their own chapel.
The passage through and out of the Ribatejo lead us onto our final destination of the day: Obidos, town surrounded by a fortified which dates back from the eighth century. The is brilliant and fascinating example of medieval architecture with hilltop castle and all. I can’t remember of ever visiting a place that dragged me back to Medieval times like Obidos. The winding little paths all leading up to the castle overlooking the countryside around the town including the Templar church just outside the town. I didn’t get to visit the church in Tomar, but at least got to see this one, which was another perfect example of Templar architecture i.e. round buildings designed to resemble the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
It was while we were in the church that I developed a, I don’t know, let’s say a dislike for the average Spanish tourist in Portugal. Why you ask? Well when Raquel and I walked into the church, the Spanish tour group were making so much noise inside that I found it hard to believe that it was actually a church. They were shouting, jumping around the altar as if it was a playground. When the Spaniards eventually left, the church retained its habitual silence and it felt a lot more of a special place due to it. We spoke to the caretaker who complained about the Spaniards and their lack of respect for the church…
And that was the end of our day in the central region of Portugal. Obviously there’s a lot more to the region than I wrote about here, but this is something to give a taste for this great region of Portugal. Next up in my tour of Portugal: The northern city of Porto.