Tomar is a Knights Templar town. Its crowning glory is its Convento de Cristo...yes another Convento. It is perched high on the hill overlooking the town. Quite complete (though heavily restored) 12th century walls enclose the monastery which was founded in 1160.
This was a far more impressive site than the monastery we had visited in Batalha. The building rambles over a huge area within the walls amongst the monastery gardens. Here we could wander into just about everywhere - the cloisters, the cells, the kitchens, the refectories, the bread making areas, the latrines, the chapels, the Church, the Chapter House, up stone spiral staircases to walk on the roof, along corridors and loggias. Its grand surfaces are a mix of styles from the highly ornate to more sober. Some of the stone is very badly eroded and damaged, and some work is being done on restoration where the new stonework shines brightly. But most of the building is moss and lichen covered and has a distinctly spooky air.
It couldn't be more different from the Convento dos Capuchos with its austerity and hardship for its eight inhabitants. This is a grand set of buildings that housed hundreds. Azelejo tiles decorate the walls; heated air was supplied to cells from a boiler room; inlaid marble and carved wood adorn the choir and Chapter House; carved stone ornaments windows; and the church itself is like nothing else. It is 16 sided with a circular aisle and the altar housed in an octagon in the centre. Wall frescoes, once under coats of lime-wash, are being restored and cover the roof and walls. The gold paint on the frescoes still shines after all these centuries.
This was one fantastic visit that exceeded expectations. But Tomar had a surprise or two more for us. First surprise was that the oldest Synagogue in Portugal, now a museum, is closed from October on. So we went in search of a tile workshop in an old Franciscan convento. It was clearly marked on our map and we found what we thought was the right building. No signs, no indication at all. We poked our head inside, nothing. We went in a bit further to find an internal courtyard and there with a very small sign in the corner we found a terrific little workshop making reproduction and bespoke tiles. Needless to say, a small purchase ensued.
With darkness descending, we walked back along the pedestrian streets in town towards the campsite. (Incidentally, this one is right in town, has the best facilities we have enjoyed so far and is as cheap as chips - who can complain about €8 a night!) We saw lots of young people dressed in black suits with black capes lined with cloth badges and with flat-topped felt hats heading towards the town square. Naturally being curious we followed them. A long, rowdy procession of what could only have been university students was noisily making their way to the square as well. They were covered in paint and what looked like ashes on their heads, and were gleefully pouring more paint over each other as they went along. Once they reached the square, they seemed to form two rival groups and sat in two areas singing songs and cheering each other on. One group even tried a Haka! A paper and cardboard pig, all painted in pink, was draped over a shopping trolley and being pushed along into the proceedings. The black outfitted students seemed to be a bit older and were supervising from outside; the others were more like 1st years. We never did work out exactly what it was all about, but it seemed to be a ritual and they were all having a great time. Perhaps, with the ashes on their heads it had something to do with All Souls' Day (it was the 2nd November) - who knows. The rest of the evening looked like it would be one in which there would be plenty of booze and smoking of strange substances, and some of them were already well under way.
We decided we were a bit old for all that and went back to camp.