Tomar was created in 1160 by order of the first Grand Master of the Knights Templar in Portugal as their head-quarters and contains some of the most significant Templar monuments in Europe. Tomar was especially important in the 15th century when it was a centre of Portuguese overseas expansion under Henry the Navigator, then the Grand Master of the Order of Christ, the successor organization to the Templar's in Portugal.
The Igreja da Santa Maria dos Olivais was considered as the mother church of the Order of the Knights Templar in Portugal and it is the resting place of many of the past Masters. The most important secret ceremonies of this Order took place in the "Charola", an octagonal chapel painted and carved in the Byzantine style and is the heart of the 12th Century Convento de Cristo much of which was built using the stone from Roman ruins. Many of the frescos, statuary and paintings decorating the "Charola" have been carefully restored to their former splendour. The 12th Century Castle attached to the Convento looks down on lively streets and historic buildings.
The 15th Century Igreja de São João Baptista contains paintings that include a remarkable work, the Last Supper painted by Gregório Lopes, painted during the 16th Century. In this town is one of the oldest synagogues in Portugal that was built between 1430 and 1460. Last used in 1497 it is now a small Jewish Museum in honour of Abraham Zacuto who was a renowned astronomer and mathematician who lived in the 15th Century. Also, beside the 15th Century bridge Ponte Velha is the Capela da Santa Ira built to celebrate the martyrdom of this 7th Century Saint. This town has many other churches of interest, particularly the 16th Century Nossa Senhora da Conceição. The Museu dos Fósforos in the former cloisters of the Igreja de São Francisco is possibly unique in that it is devoted to matches exhibiting some 43.000 matchboxes from 104 countries.
Tomar is north east of Sao Martinho do Porto and the easiest route is to take the N8 to Alcobaça and continue Northwards to a large roundabout where you can join the newly constructed IC9 which will take you to Tomar where you will see signs for the Castle/Convent.