The Templars came to Portugal in the 12th century at the request of Portugal’s founding king, D. Afonso Henriques. They built a series of castles on the banks of the Tejo River to defend the new nation from the Moors. At Tomar, the order built their headquarters, a fortified monastery that is one of the most important medieval sites in Europe. The original church was patterned on the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Israel. Its central nave with its soaring heights were almost unheard of at that time. The massive door was so high that, according to legend, the knights attended mass on horseback.
Today, Tomar is a monument city and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Its great castle is a fascinating relic of the mysterious Templars, full of secret passages, symbolic paintings, and compelling art. The city below is well preserved with a 14th century synagogue and Jewish Museum, a riverfront park with an Arab waterwheel, a main square flanked by a Gothic church and medieval city hall. The Templars built the gothic Church of Santa Maria do Olival in the 13th as a burial ground for the Knights. But the mysterious Our Lady of the Conception (Nossa Senhora da Conceição) chapel built in the second half of the 16th century in pure Renaissance style, is the center of rumors. Some say it was intended to be the burial site of King Joao III. But others say that it is tied to the secrets of the Templars…. Who knows?