||ABOUT TOMAR: LOCATION, HISTORY AND TRADITIONS||
Located 100 km north of Lisbon in the most fertile region of Portugal (Ribatejo), Tomar is a historic city worth to visit.
Tomar is now a city of some 20,000 inhabitants, occupying a total area of 351.0 km²
Convent of Christ
The most outstanding monument to be seen is Tomar is the Convent of Christ, which is a historical description of the Portuguese architectural styles from the 12th to the 18th centuries, with special emphasis on the late gothic and the unique style of Manueline. This style diversity offers the visitor an opportunity to enjoy a unique architectural itinerary through history.
In 1418 Prince Henry "The Navigator", who was Grand Master of the Order of Christ at the time, ordered the construction of the extraordinary "Charola" and the Templar’s fortress.
From the “Charola”, the Convent spreads around several cloisters. Overtime a set of architectural addictions was built: eight cloisters, a two storey 16th century Manueline church, the choir and the sacristy.
Church of Santa Maria do Olival
The gothic church of Santa Maria do Olival dates back to the early 13th century, and is said to have been built on the site of 7th century Benedictine monastery. This church was considered as the Mother Church of the Templar in Portugal and here was originally the pantheon of the Order of the Knights Templar. Inside still are the graves of the past Templar Masters. The church has a detached square tower facing the main façade with a triple archivolts portico and the church has three naves.
Church of São João Baptista
The Manueline church of Sâo João Baptista is the main church of Tomar, located in the main square (Republic Square) and was built in 1510 during the staying of Manuel I in Tomar. The main façade has two entrances and exhibits a flamboyant Gothic portal. A three storey Manueline tower with a 16th century clock completes the main side of the church. The church has three naves with decorated capitals in the inner columns, and a set of 16th century panels by the Portuguese artist Gregório Lopes may be admired, specially a “Last Supper” painting.
Church of Santa Iria
The 17th-century church of São Francisco house a Match Museum (“Museu dos Fósforos”) in its former cloisters. It is quite an unique Museum of this kind with the largest collection in Europe, exhibiting over 43,000 matchboxes from 104 countries.
This building is actually the best-preserved mediaeval synagogue of Portugal. The synagogue was built in the mid 15th century, between 1430 and 1460,and has four towers and a Gothic vaulted ceiling and columns with classic capitals. Since 1939, the synagogue houses the small Jewish Museum Abraão Zacuto, a famous 15th century astronomer and mathematician, which exhibits an interesting set of pieces related to Jewish history in Portugal.
This chapel is located on the hill leading up to the Convent of Christ. The chapel was built between 1532 and 1540 in pure Renaissance style. The works begun by the hand of João de Castilho and were finished by Diogo de Torralva. The chapel was intended to be the burial chapel of King John III. The chapel is considered one of the best early Renaissance buildings in Portugal exhibiting elegantly carved Corinthian columns inside.
Between the perpendicular streets, emerges the “Corredoura” (Serpa Pinto Street), a pedestrian street that leads from the river to the Square of Republic. A legend tells that this street was utilised by the Templars for jousting. Today, during spring and summer, the “Corredoura” is full of tourists enjoying cooling drinks in its many cafés.
The traditional Festival of the Trays (“Festa dos Tabuleiros”) is held in Tomar and it is one of the largest of its kind in Portugal. Historically, this Festival has its roots back to the 16th century in the cult of the Holy Spirit, that remounts earlier to the reign of King Diniz (1279-1324) and his wife Queen Isabel.
The Festival is announced in Easter Sunday by the Crowns Procession that crosses the town by the sound of drums, pipes and bands, leading the banner of the Holy Ghost and the three silvers crowns carried by those who organise the Festival. Members of the town council and parish dignitaries join the procession throughout the city, each one carrying a
During the Festival the old streets of Tomar are decorated with paper flowers and the most colourful and original decorated street is awarded the prize in the evening of the first day. A number of other events are organised and there is always music, dancing and fireworks throughout.
The outstanding moment of the Festival takes place in the last day and attracts the greatest number of visitors. Through the narrow streets of Tomar marches the traditional procession where hundreds of young women representing all the districts and villages, carry on her heads a colourful tray made with paper flowers and 30 loaves. In 2011 are expected circa 700 trays.
The women dressed in white with a coloured belt are escorted by young men dressing a white shirt, black trousers and a tie as the same colour of the girl's belt, being red the most common colour. Although 30 degrees temperature and a four hours parade, the young women don’t hand over the tray because is considered to be dishonourable.
The tray is the height of a girl and weights around 15 kg, it is traditionally composed by 30 loaves threaded on a vertical structure inserted in a basket intertwined with leaves and paper flowers. At the top, the tray has a large painted tin crown with the Cross of Christ or a white dove symbolising the Holy Spirit.
The last Festival of the Trays took place in July 2011 and attracted over hundreds of thousand visitors from around the world.
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