After Leiria, we traveled by bus to Coimbra, which has the oldest University in Portugal, and one of the oldest in Europe, established in 1290. The town is situated on the Mondego River, which is quite wide and pretty, and has pleasant parks and walkways on either side. Our hotel was right across the street from the river. We found many pleasant restaurants there for lunch or dinner.
Rising up above the river is a high hill with the ancient University at the top. (The university has spread out from there over the centuries.) The University itself has a large courtyard surrounded by the oldest buildings. One end of the courtyard is on the bluff with a great view of the Mondego River valley.
|Church of Santa Cruz|
|Tomb of Afonso Henriques|
This contrasts remarkably with the Old Cathedral (Sé Velha), a bulky Romanesque hulk halfway up the hill, begun in 1162. This is actually a very impressive church in its solidity and plainness. It only has a few high up windows, so it was reminiscent of a lot of early churches we saw in Spain.
|Saint Queen Isabel|
Across the river, there are also a number of interesting sights. The Convent of Santa Clara houses the silver tomb of the Saint Queen of Portugal, Doña Isabel of Aragon, who died in 1336. This is in the new convent.
|Cloister of new Santa Clara|
|Ruins of old Santa Clara|
We ate lunch at a villa turned hotel nearby, which also has a connection to Inȇs de Castro. This was one of their hideaways, and it was here that she was captured by her assassins, though she was actually killed nearby in Coimbra.
|Portugal dos Pequinitos|
|Portugal dos Pequinitos|
|Conimbriga rain garden|
|Wall through house|
|Wall and road|
Finally, our last stop was the town of Tomar, also situated on a pretty little river, the Nabão. Indeed, our hotel was a pleasant old inn on an island in the river. Most of the island is a public park, and our room had a large balcony overlooking the park, with a large trellis of fragrant wisteria framing the view.
It was an easy and pleasant walk to the town
square where there is a 16th century church with Manueline doorway
and well done religious painting by the famous-in-Portugal painter Gregorio
|View from our Tomar balcony|
|Convent of Christ above Tomar|
Across the river on a hill is the main sight of Tomar, the Convent of Christ. This was originally the center for the Knights Templar of Portugal, an order of crusaders. After the crusades were over, kings and pope decided the Knights had gotten too powerful, so that they were disbanded in 1314. In Portugal, King Dinis reconstituted them as the Order of Christ, with himself as Grand Master.
They were much involved with the Portuguese
discoveries and expansion overseas, and so kings and princes, who continued to
head the organization, continued to build and expand the Convent. It is by the far the biggest complex we have
been in, with seven cloisters. The core
of the convent is the original Chapel, built in the 12th century, a
sixteen sided church with a central alter inside an arched octagon. Later a 2 story nave was attached, with the
chapel becoming the apse of the church.
There are also the usual (by now) extravagantly decorated doorways and
windows added by King Manuel.
interest was the huge dormitory, a part of monasteries that we were rarely able
to see elsewhere. This dormitory was in
the shape of a large T. The hallway
seemed as wide as a road, and the cells were as big (or bigger) than our tiny apartment
in Lisbon. There was a choir warming up
for a concert in one cloister, which gave a nice aural element to our tour.
The other main sight in Tomar is the oldest preserved synagogue in Portugal. It is an aesthetically pleasing square room with four pillars in the center supporting Gothic arches. The pillars are said to represent the 4 matriarchs of Judaism, Sarah, Rebecca, Leah, and Rachel, which is something that I had never heard before. The museum included displays explaining Judaism, and a number of old gravestones from around the country. The volunteer who showed us around was very enthusiastic, but also wished that much more archeology and preservation work could get done. For instance, in an adjoining room there is evidence of the mikvah, which needs more excavation. We enjoyed talking with him about the similar, less well preserved synagogue in St. Eustatius.
On April 22 we returned to Lisbon by train with enough time to enjoy relaxing at the Praça Commercio and eating a delicious vegetarian dinner. On April 23 we flew out to new adventures in Holland.