Saturday, June 27, 2015

Friars, Fish, Castles, and Templar Knights






RICH:

In America, there is a saying "Keeping up with the Jones" which basically means people are always trying to match their neighbors possessions.  Portugal over the last 700 years had taken it to new levels.  Each new Castle, Palace and Monastery we visit keeps giving us a "Wow" reaction.  For purposes of safety from invading armies, the castles are usually at the top of the highest hill/mountain around.  Many new technologies were developed for the purpose of lifting huge stones into place.  When a new King/Ruler/Bishop came into power they wanted their own monument to their awesomeness and higher walls were built.   We missed many castles and still felt like we were living in Playmobile toy land, or sets from the Game of Thrones.  Traveling in April we were sometimes alone, and were transported to another century.  Magical.






Dom Nuno Alvares Pereira, Portuguese General, Monk, and Saint from the 14th century (and I'm not talking about the guy on the left)... well known for his role in leading Portugal to independence during the Battle of Aljubarrota in 1385.   


WANDA:

Rich, you say for "purposes of safety"!!  Then why are you standing on that crumbling wall!! - oh that's right, because it's been up for centuries...  the 12th century castle above is in the village of Ourem, not a popular place for tourists, as we were able to wander the ruins alone...





...Anyway, we have seen quite a few monasteries and castles in Portugal already - our end goal in to get up to Porto (where Port originally comes from!) so instead of driving straight up, we took detours to visit some of the more well known and not so well known castles and monasteries between Lisbon and Porto....





...Here we go!  On our way to explore  castles and monasteries of old....problem is - some of those entrances were meant for horses (or maybe a smart car) not us!  Back up and let's start again... (thanks once again to our GPS guide Sir Richard M. leading us astray)




...It does seem every town in Portugal has a castle, we passed by this one on the highway...



Castelo de Obidos
The second castle we came upon was in Obidos...the town has quite a history - an early settlement of Celt tribes, then it became a trade center for the Phoenicians...  

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...then the Romans (who left their mark everywhere), Visigoths, Moors (for 400 years), then taken from the Moors by  the 1st King of Portugal Alfonso Henriques in 1148.  
You can walk the castle walls - but warning, there are no nets to catch you if you misstep...



...today -  all that history is reenacted every July, as the town recreates a traditional Medieval Fair that includes jousting knights...


Let's move on.... we headed to the coastline and based ourselves in Nazare, and went exploring from there...a view of the Atlantic coastline in Portugal is spectacular...



...We stayed in Nazare for 4 nights.  A quaint and beautiful seaside fishing village...



....and though the Atlantic is calm today, Nazare is known as having some of the biggest waves in recorded history.  Surfer great Garrett McNamara, holds the record for the largest wave ever surfed here, set in 2011 at 78 feet - and broke his own record in 2013 on a 100 foot wave,  putting Nazare on the map as a mecca for surfers......the few days we were here, we saw only children surfing on small waves....



...Nazare is a step back in time, this charming village is still steeped in traditions - women wear their ancestral headscarves, embroidered aprons, and clogs and men still fish in their old wooden boats ....











...and on the beaches of Nazare,  the ancient tradition of drying fish (Mackerel today, Sardines next month) on the beach is still done.  The owner of a restaurant we ate in said he grills them and they are delicious (unfortunately, he did not have any for us to taste that evening)...





Dressed in a traditional outfit, this local vendor sold us a bag of Amendoas and peanut cookies (this should keep us until dinner!)






Of course one always love to hear of the stories and legends that are part of the town.  One is the legend of a small black wooden Madonna "Our Lady of the Nazareth" - supposedly carved by her husband Joseph the carpenter in Nazareth, and brought here from Galilee through Spain. Hence the name of the town Nazare!  There are about 500 black Madonnas in Europe and many are associated with miracles - as was this one!




Castelo de Leiria
The beautiful modern Leiria in the foreground was once occupied by the IberianCelts, the Romans, the Visigoths, the Moors and then captured by by Alfonso Henriques during the Reconquista of 1135 (sound familiar?) - by the way he was also nicknamed
 "The Conqueror"...


....Alfonso spent time rebuilding the walls and fortifying the castle against enemy attacks and  it was here that he planned his strategy to take back Santarem, Sintra, and Lisbon from the Moors in 1147.  King Alfonso I was a busy man spending the majority of his life fighting the Moors.  



Tomar Knights Templar Castle
The first stone was laid in 1160 by Gualdim de Pais, (who fought alongside Alfonso Henriques against the Moors) the 4th Grand Master in Portugal of The Order of The Knights Templar.  The Castle was the headquarters and stronghold of The Knights Templar for many years... Fast forward to France where King Phillip IV of France and Pope Clement V on Friday, October 13, 1307 falsely accused the Knights Templar of heresy and arrested the French leadership of the Templars and ordered all Templars arrested  (many in France were burned at the stake)  and that was the end of the Templars ......or was it??
 Lot's more to this story you will have to Google.  Portugal's King Dinis allowed the Templar members  to regroup under the new name of "Order of Christ" in 1319 with their headquarters moving to Tomar in 1357. 

The most famous Grand Master in Portugal was Henry the Navigator from 1417 to 1460 who organized and launched the expeditions of the "Age of Discovery"...(probably funded with the Templar treasures)



The Convent of Christ or Round Church inside the castle is magnificent....  





.....imagine these Warrior-Monks attending church services on their horses surrounding the altar in the center....


A couple of the myths of Tomar is that it still hides the world's greatest Templar treasures and there are secret passages that run from the castle to the church Santa Maria dos Olivais outside the gates in the town below...






The famous Window of the Chapter House is an example of Manueline style of architecture named after the King Manuel I of that time.  The window embraces the maritime symbols from the Portuguese Discoveries - I'm sure there are other secret Templar symbols hidden somewhere... (DaVinci Code!!)



View of the Castle from the town below


The spirit of the Knights Templar still lives on in Tomar!.......



The Monastery of Batalha - (Batalha means Battle)
Officially known as The Monastery of Santa Maria da Vitoria
 was built in commemoration of the 1385 Battle of Aljubarrota - A major Portuguese victory and independence from the Crown of Castile.
Built in the 14th century, it holds the tombs of King Joao and Queen Filipa and their children including the famous Henry the Navigator.
it was worked on for 200 years and still there is an unfinished chapel.




Open air unfinished chapel....




The Monastery of Batalha is a UNESCO World Heritage Site - stunning!


Last stop before Porto is Coimbra.  A must stop, as it was the first capital of Portugal in the 12th century.  The University of Coimbra stands at the top of the hill that was once the Alcacova Palace.  This vibrant city revolves around  all the academic traditions of the University...


...they say Fado was originated by students here... there are so many activities that happen during the school year that involves the entire town...



... it is the oldest University in Europe founded in 1290, as well as one of the oldest in the world.  The traditional capes are still worn by the students (It felt like a Harry Potter off to Hogwarts University movie!)




The 18th century Joanina Library is one of the main tourist attractions in Coimbra.  They do not allow you to take photos inside this amazing World Heritage Site, so you will have to imagine - what is inside a library?  The answer - the rarest collections of books from the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries... A colony of bats even live here, and feed on the insects that would otherwise attack the books... (it does sound like Hogwarts!) 


...So it ends... The Monastery Of Santa Cruz in Coimbra, where Portugal's first Monarch and hero King Alfonso Henriques is buried...



Great week!  
We aren't done with Portugal yet - and we know we probably missed a few castles and monasteries that we will have to save until next time... 

Saude!!..... Let's head up to Porto now......

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