I had never heard of Tomar before looking at where to go in Portugal. In this, I am probably less well informed than the average Burberry wearing, hot hatch driving, UKIP voting ne’er do well, as Tomar is the ancient HQ of the Christian fighting organisation the Knights Templar, an organisation that has been adopted by bigots and racists throughout Europe. The headline is that they were European Christians who fought in the crusades, were very good at fighting but even better at raising money so had a lot of influence. They lasted for about 200 years, when in 1312, King Philip IV of France took advantage of the public’s growing distrust of the organisation (fuelled by mysterious initiation rights) to outlaw and persecute them. His motivation was the fact he owed them loads of cash and getting ride of them got rid of the debt.
They went underground, have loads of spin-offs who claim a relationship (Free Masons for example), and are surrounded in mystery... a mysterious, wealthy organisation that fought Muslims - a great fit for misappropriation by people who use incredibly poor spelling and too much upper case to spread hate on social media.
Whilst all this is true, and the knights were probably people who felt they were superior due to their religion and skin colour, they left a lasting legacy behind in the form of grand buildings throughout Europe (Temple Bar in London for example). In the centre of the Convento de Christo, on a hill overlooking Tomar, is a wonderful example of this in the shape of the Knights Templar temple. It is impressively large and ornate, and despite being occupied by Napoleon’s army who burnt anything they could to keep themselves warm, it is remarkably well preserved. Successive Portuguese kings took a liking to the place and the temple is now surrounded by beautiful cloisters and a Covent for monks.
We were shown around by Luis, the owner of Tuk Lovers, a small company that does tours on tuk tuks. The thought of spending a few hours on a tuk tuk with a stranger isn’t the best one for me but Luis was superb. Charming, knowledgeable, funny and enthusiastic, he was also well connected enough to secure the keys to a rarely visited underground room once used for complicated initiation ceremonies. We also zoomed out to the part of the aqueduct that once fed the convent that was an exceptional feat of engineering, straddling a valley.
On the tour we heard about a 3 day Portuguese music festival about 5km out of town, hosted by a small village and aimed at celebrating/showcasing young Portuguese talent and this presented an opportunity that couldn’t be missed. We thought it might be a little like Bundanoon Winterfest, but warmer…. And with more Portuguese people. We were the oldest people on the bus by about 25 years and most seemed to be camping for the duration. In the village there were a number of older people but mostly they came in the form of the locals who looked on with a mix of amusement and bewilderment. There were venues in the square, in files, in halls and in back gardens. There were food trucks, booze stands and stalls selling clothing made from the pubic hair of yaks and dyed in various shades of brown and orange that only those really annoying young middle class travellers wear on the gap years to go with their dreadlocks and ability to talk hippy bollocks.
It was a very, very Portuguese affair and one of the bar people said that she thought we were the only none Portuguese there. Real adventurers! Well kind of……… we got rather cold and left well before midnight, just as things were warming up, talking about being too old to be cold…….
Next stop, Obidos and the home of Ginja!.