From its inception in 1160, the Convent of the Order of Christ monastery experienced 5 centuries of inspired builders, including Manuel I (the Fortunate). It also fell victim to destroyers, notably in 1810, when Napoleon's overzealous troops turned it into a barracks. What remains on the top of the hill is one of Portugal's most brilliant architectural accomplishments.

The portal of the Templars Church, in the Manueline style, depicts everything from leaves to chubby cherubs. Inside is an octagonal church with eight columns, said to have been modeled after the Temple of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem. The mosquelike effect links Christian and Muslim cultures, as in the Mezquita in Córdoba, Spain. The author Howard La Fay called it "a muted echo of Byzantium in scarlet and dull gold." The damage the French troops inflicted is very evident. On the other side, the church is in the Manueline style with rosettes. Throughout, you'll see the Templars insignia.

The monastery's eight cloisters embrace a variety of styles. The most notable, a two-tiered structure dating from the 12th century, exhibits perfect symmetry, the almost severe academic use of the classical form that distinguishes the Palladian school. A guide will also take you on a brief tour of a dormitory where the monks lived in austere cells.

The monastery possesses some of the greatest Manueline stonework in Portugal. A fine example is the grotesque west window of the chapter house. At first the forms emanating from the window might confuse you, but closer inspection reveals a meticulous symbolic and literal depiction of Portugal's sea lore and power. Knots and ropes, mariners and the tools of their craft, silken sails wafting in stone and re-created coral seascapes -- all are delicately interwoven in this chef d'oeuvre of the whole movement.