Tag Archives: Alhambra

Portugal, Tomar and The Convento de Cristo

Tomar Portugal Castle of the Knights

There was a steep path to be negotiated to get to the Convento and by midday it was really quite hot so it became quite uncomfortable just to get to the top of the hill.  Luckily it plateaued out by the time we got to the entrance and paid our €6 entrance fee and went inside.

This was becoming a perfect day and thanks to the distraction of the Festival we arrived later at the Convento than we had planned and this turned out to be a good thing because a lot of the coach tour parties were now gathering up their passengers and beginning to leave.  On the down side we just missed free entrance because we were a few minutes past one o’clock because before that it is free on a Sunday.

Convento de Cristo Tomar portugal

Tomar is one of the most historically important cities in all of Portugal with a history that stretches back to the Romans and probably even before that.   Fast forward a thousand years and after the capture of the region from the Moors in the Portuguese Reconquista, the land was granted in 1159 to the Order of the Knights Templar. In 1160, the Grand Master in Portugal, Gualdim Pais, laid the first stone of the Castle and Monastery that would become the headquarters of the Order in Portugal and from here they pledged to defend Portugal from any subsequent Moorish attacks and raids

The history is important so please bear with me here.  In 1314, under pressure from Pope Clement V, who wanted the Templars banned throughout Europe, the King of Portugal negotiated to transfer the possessions and personnel of the Order in Portugal to a newly created Order of Christ. In the 15th century by a compromise agreement the position of (cleric) Grand Master of the Order was nominated by the Pope, and the (lay) Master or Governor by the King.

Henry the Navigator (one of the most important people in Portuguese history) was made the Governor and he used the resources and knowledge of the Order to succeed in his enterprises in Africa and in the Atlantic. The cross of the Order of Christ was painted in the sails of the ships that crossed the seas and the Catholic missions in the new lands were under the authority of the Tomar clerics until 1514.

IMG_7941Fountain at Convento de Cristo Tomar

The Convento was a wonderful place to visit, so much better than the Palace at Sintra and at only two-thirds the price so much better value.  We spotted a coach tour party arriving so we started with the visit before we were overrun with tourist invaders.

And what a tour it was, through courtyards and grand rooms, all empty of course and I prefer it that way to places that are stuffed full of furniture and decorations.  Personally I prefer to see a place stripped bare rather than full of old tat.

Through corridors and chapels, great halls and kitchens, dormitories and medieval offices it was all completely wonderful, I could easily have gone through the place for a second time but I knew Kim wouldn’t like that so we left the Convento and made our way to the castle and climbed the walls and made a circuit of the complete site before returning to ground level and after a surprising three hours leaving again and making our way back down to the main square stopping on the way in a café for a drink.

convento de cristo 03

Here I reflected on the visit and I realise that it is easy to get carried away by the moment but I compared it to a visit to the Alhambra Palace in Granada a year ago and I concluded that this place was better.  If someone told me that I could visit only one of them ever again then I would choose the Convento de Cristo.

Eventually we arrived back in Praça da República and stopped for another beer.  We liked it, the weather was perfect and we were seamlessly adjusted to life outside of Lisbon, it had been a very good few days.  When we first arrived I worried about filling three days in Tomar but right now it really wouldn’t have bothered me if the trains went on strike and I had to stop for a fourth.

If you are planning a visit to central Portugal then you simply must stop over in Tomar.

As it happened I was becoming an expert now and I was confident in giving directions to Caminho Way walkers and giving restaurant recommendations to new guests at the Conde de Ferreira Palace. It was rather a shame to be leaving but eventually we left the square while Kim went back to the hotel I walked to the railway station to buy tickets for the next leg of our journey, this time to Coimbra.

Our preferred restaurant was closed tonight so we walked the small town looking for an alternative and eventually settled upon another local sort of place which was nowhere near as good but we enjoyed a good meal at a reasonable price before one last walk through Tomar and back to the hotel for suitcase packing.

Conde de Ferreira Palace Tomar

Travels in Spain – The Alhambra Palace and the Rugby Granada Cinema

Alhambra Detail

“Granada! Holy place of the glory of Spain,
Your mountains are the white tents of pavilions,
Your walls are the circle of a vase of flowers,
Your plain a Moorish shawl embroidered with colour,
Your towers are palm trees that imprison you” –  José Zorrilla y Moral

We had a good room in a nice hotel in Romilla and from the balcony we began to adjust to the pace of the place which, it has to be said was dangerously close to reverse.

The sun was shining now so we went for a stroll at what I would describe as a sort of normal walking pace but which seemed to startle a couple of the locals who were busy sitting around doing nothing and who broke out into a sweat just watching us amble by and then we came across a bar who seemed surprised to suddenly have some customers.  Anyway, it was very pleasant sitting in the sun at last and we stayed for a second beer and the barman prepared us some complimentary tapas.

I was reluctant to raise the issue of the obvious absence of restaurants in Romilla but despite my efforts to avoid it conversation inevitably turned to evening dining arrangements.  These were so limited that our only real option was to return to a service station at the side of the nearby main road.  This could have been a disaster for me but luckily it turned out fine, there was a motel on the site and an excellent reasonably priced restaurant where we enjoyed an unexpectedly good meal.

Alhambra Granada

We had an unusually early start the following morning because we were driving to Granada and had timed entrance tickets to the Alhambra Palace complex and believe me this is a good tip – make sure you book in advance on line because entrance tickets are strictly limited to a prescribed number and if you turn up on the day expecting to buy a ticket and it is full then you won’t get in.  End of!

I have been to Granada several times as it happens.  Not this one of course but the Granada Cinema in my home town of Rugby.  What a flea-pit it was.  A towering brick building built in 1933 and originally called the Plaza but later in 1946 changing its name to the Granada in the same way as so many others as they borrowed continental place names such as Alhambra, Rialto, Amalfi and Colosseum to make them sound more exciting.  Later car manufacturers did exactly the same of course and we had the Ford trio of Corsair, Cortina and Granada, Triumph had the Toledo and the Dolomite and the Seat the Ibiza and the Cordoba.

Rugby Granada Picture House

And not just Granada, I have also been to the Alhambra, that is the Alhambra public house in Coventry which was on the once a month Saturday night pub trail when I was a lot younger.

It was a short drive to Granada, one of the great cities of Iberia, located at the confluence of four major rivers and at the base of the Sierra Nevada mountains, the highest in all of Spain and still snow capped at the highest peaks which created a picturesque backdrop as we made our final approach to the Alhambra.

At ten o’clock it wasn’t especially busy and we easily collected our tickets and began our visit to a place that with three million visitors a year claims to be the most visited site in Spain.

Alhambra Gateway

Top ten most visited are Alhambra, Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, the Mosque at Cordoba, Santiago de Compostella, Burgos Cathedral, the Alcazar of Segovia, Roman Theatre at Merida, Casa Mila in Barcelona, the Cathedral and La Giralda in Seville and the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. I have visited them all except for the Guggenheim.

We began in the gardens of the Generalife, the summer palace of the Sultans and Emirs and built in the shadow of the mountains in the coolest spot on the site away from the suffocating heat of the Alhambra itself.

The Alhambra complex was built for the last Muslim Emirs in Spain during the the Nasrid dynasty who at the time were increasingly subject to the Christian Kings of Castile.  After the final expulsion of the Moors and being allowed to fall into disrepair for centuries, the buildings occupied by squatters, the Alhambra was rediscovered following the defeat of Napoleon, who carried out retaliatory destruction of the site.

It has been restored now to its former glory and exhibits the country’s most significant and most precious Islamic architecture.

Alhambra Nasrid Palace

The 1492 surrender of the Islamic Emirate of Granada to the Catholic Monarchs is one of the most significant events in the history of Granada as it marked the completion of the Reconquista of Al-Andalus.  As part of the deal the Muslims were allowed to stay in Granada and afforded religious toleration but within only a few years the Christians reneged on this and those who refused to convert were expelled.

El Cid 1

Christians took possession of the site and added a cathedral and a castle complex and sometime later Holy Roman Emperor Charles V demolished part of the site and built himself a grand palace but then having gone to all that trouble he never bothered to move in.  What a waste!

Fortunately today much of the Palace of the Moors remains intact (restored of course) and eventually we used our timed tickets to join a queue to go inside.  It was wonderful and it immediately transported us back to Morocco and the Palaces of Marrakech and Meknes.  Architecture that foams like a carelessly opened bottle of fizzy water, slender columns, floating arches and wood and stone that dissolves into fragile lace.

Alhambra Gardens

Hanging gardens, foaming fountains and sparkling streams of water, cool welcome shade, sunshine trying to break in like a thief, startlingly fine alabaster white stucco work, geometric tiled patterns exploding with colour, decoration like stalactites dripping from the elaborate ceilings, carved columns and horseshoe arches and I immediately understood why this just might be the number one place to visit in Spain.

We stayed as long as we possibly could in the Palace complex but inevitably the flow of visitors carried us like an estuary to the exit and we left with an overwhelming feeling of total satisfaction.

Palace of Charles V Alhambra

In the heat of the afternoon we visited the Palace of Charles V and the museum inside and then the Alcazaba with stunning views over the whole of the city of Granada.

I had hoped that I might persuade Kim to walk down into the city centre and at least visit the towering cathedral but I could tell that she wasn’t particularly keen so I kept that suggestion to myself with the thought that one day we might return to Granada and see all of the things that we were now going to miss.

Granada from the Alhambra

Perhaps we should have stayed in Granada rather than Romilla but it was too late to reverse that decision now so we made our weary way back to the village and the hotel El Soto de Roma and rested a while before making our way back to the village bar for wine and tapas and later we returned to the motorway service station for evening meal where we reflected on a really excellent day.

Alhambra Reflection