Declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1983, Tomar has seen the reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula from the Moors, and the maritime expansion of Portuguese territory.
A town that reflects various periods of western art and history, Tomar began when D. Afonso Henriques, Portugal’s first king, donated the lands around the town to the Order of the Temple as a reward for their help in recapturing the territory from the Moors. It is said that Gualdim Pais, the Master of the Order in Portugal, knew that it lay at the north / south divide of what was to become Portugal. It was also the site of the right angle that linked Earth to the sign of the Templars in the sky: the constellation Gemini.
It was in 1160 that the Master began to build the castle and ordered the region to be settled. The castle is connected to the Templars’ Rotunda, an octagonal church and a gem of sacred architecture that was itself based on the temple erected by Constantine over the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
Despite the suppression of the Order of the Temple in I314 by Philip the Fair, King of France, the Templars were able to continue their mission in Portugal through the efforts of the King D.
Dinis. With the approval of the Holy See, he founded the Militia of the Knights of Christ in 1319, which took over the property and privileges of the extinct order. The curved lines of the Templar cross were changed to straight ones. With their cross engraved on the sails of the caravels, the Knights of Christ joined Prince Henry the Navigator in preparing the Portuguese nation for the maritime discoveries of the 15th and 16th centuries, carrying the Cross of Christ to all corners of the world.
King D. Manuel then symbolically expanded the Templar monument westwards, and it is here that the architectural heritage of the age of the navigators reaches its focal point. An example of this is the famous chapterhouse window, an eloquent work celebrating the Discoveries which rises towards the heavens under the Cross of Christ. It is as if the Portuguese mission to discover the world had found its highest meaning here, and the Knights had finally discovered their Grail.