Let’s try this again, shall we? To the very best of our current ability, here is a bit more of an overview of all the awesome things we did yesterday in Tomar:

First, we stopped in the Church of St. John the Baptist. We had tried to visit this church yesterday, but they were holding mass and not accepting visitors. Since it was right around the corner from our hotel (literally!), it made an easy first stop of the day. Something that was really cool about this church is that it still rings out the time every 30 minutes, the exact same way church bells have been doing for hundreds of years before people had watches and cell phones to tell them the time.

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Next, we went up to the Templar Castle, which you saw a little bit of in volume 1! The first thing we did was climb the ramparts, or the outer defensive walls. Medieval castles are rarely a single building, but more like little compounds where people lived, worked, studied, and played in a number of different buildings all encircled by thick defenses such as a wall or a moat. Arrow slits like the one in this picture are commonly found in the walls and come in many different shapes; however, they are always tall and skinny. As the name suggests, these were places where archers could sit and shoot advancing enemies while stayed pretty well protected behind the rest of the wall itself. Can’t you imagine an archer sitting here with a bow at the ready to defend the castle?

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After walking these defenses, we headed through the outer gardens (where much of the food for the castle was surely grown, safe from siege behind the wall) and towards the castle building itself.

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Just look at this door!

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This castle is set up as a series of cloisters, meaning each part of the building is set up for a specific group of people to complete a specific purpose. For example, the first cloister you walk into is called the Washing Cloister, because this is where the knights who lived here apparently did their laundry. I wish my laundry room looked like this one!

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There were all kinds of things in the castle, from spaces for chores, workshops to make tools, kitchens and dining rooms, dorms for the knights to live in, all sorts of chapels and worship spaces, study spaces, a place for the Prince of Portugal when he came to visit, and even a cloister specifically for relaxing! They were all beautifully decorated either with carved stone, azulejos tiles, or both.

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Here’s another one of the cloisters, a much larger one this time that had multiple floors. This cloister included the knight’s dorms, study rooms, and a few more chapels.

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But maybe one of the most amazing things at the Castle was the main worship space! It was just a single room, which is a bit unusual for many churches in Europe, but it was decorated so beautifully you didn’t even notice the difference in the space. There were all kinds of paintings done in different styles (as they were completed in different years), wood and stone carvings, freestanding sculpture, and even some gold leaf decoration. The entire thing was so big and so bright, it was hard to know where to look! A single photo couldn’t possibly sum it up, but here’s one of my best attempts to capture just the door to this sacred space:

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Every time we thought we were through the entire castle, we’d turn a corner expecting to see the exit and find even more awesome stuff! For example, this entire back cloister where traveling VIPs would stay with their servants and staff:

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Finally, though, we made it all the way through the castle. You could easily spend an entire day in there and not get bored at all! But since we were going to Lisbon so quickly, we had to get going or we’d miss the other thing in town we really wanted to see: artists making azulejos tiles!

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The process was actually not that incredibly complicated: ceramic tiles or other items are made and fired, then the designs are drawn on in faint red pencil before being painted over and fired again to set the dyes. This shop does mostly traditional white and blue only tiles, but they did have yellow, red, and green as additional colors that were available to them if they wanted.

Whew! That was a lot, I know, but hopefully that catches you up on our only full day in Tomar. We easily could have spent more time here, but unfortunately our schedule didn’t allow for it. Today we’re in Lisbon – go check it out! It’s pretty awesome here!

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