A magnificent castle overlooks the river Nabão. It is known as a convent, but it was built in 1160 as a headquarters for the Knights Templar, the formidable Catholic military that answered to the Pope. Even when the Moors took much of Spain and Portugal in the late 1200s, the Knights Templar held onto the castle in Tomar.
When sovereigns feared the Pope had too much power, they annihilated the Knights Templar. In France, many were burned at the stake. In Portugal however, King Denis I took pity, and instead renamed the knights the Order of Christ. This new order would answer to the King, but was later demilitarized and converted to an entirely religious order.
The subsequent heads of the Order added on to the castle in the centuries to follow. Additions included cloisters, connecting corridors, an aqueduct, and an expanded chapel, not to mention decadent ironworks, paintings, and tapestries. All of these were built in the various prevailing styles of the day, from Romanesque to Gothic to Renaissance. The greatest architectural draw is the Manueline chapel, an ornate architectural style found only in Portugal.
Today, the Convento de Cristo is preserved as a museum. It has been a World Heritage site since 1983. The striking architecture, beautiful gardens, and unparalleled view offered by the hilltop castle don’t disappoint.