Ringed by ancient battlements, topped by an immense medieval cathedral and pierced to the heart by a 15th century aqueduct whose origins lie hidden beyond the western horizon, Évora is the traditional capital of the Alentejo and one of the oldest cities in the Iberian Peninsula. It is also one of the most enchanting. Though in size no more than a small market town (population 50,000), Évora possesses a heritage so incredibly rich that to attempt to mention all of its architectural and cultural treasures in the space of a short article would result in a long and ultimately wearisome list. The difficulty is that the history of Évora is essentially the history of Portugal – as the 20th century Portuguese writer, Miguel Torga, put it, “No other town in Portugal but Évora was able to tell me with purity and beauty that I am Latin, Arabian, Christian, Peninsular and Portuguese – that I am that mixture of mystical and pagan blood which made me the miserable man I am.” One is tempted, perhaps, to speculate that his ‘miserable’ state was, at least partially, caused by an editor handing him the near gargantuan task of having to sum up Évora on paper.
For many years regarded by Portuguese artists and archaeologists as ‘the Museum Town of Portugal’, Évora possesses numerous historical buildings, with some forty of them listed as national monuments and, in 1986, the whole of the centre of Évora was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In the centre of the old city stands the most outstanding work of Roman architecture surviving in Portugal today, and Évora’s most famous emblem, known as the Temple of Diana. The spaces between its columns were bricked up during the Middle Ages and eventually restoration of the monument was urged and the stone cladding was removed. Fourteen of the original twenty six granite Corinthian columns of the peristyle were discovered still standing, including a dozen of them retaining their Estremoz marble capitals. The city was conquered for Christendom in 1165 by one Giraldo Sem Pavor (Girald the Fearless), an event around which has grown one of Évora’s best-loved legends.
Apparently, Giraldo, a Christian adventurer, more or less took the city single-handedly, while fighting off hundreds of Moorish warriors with one hand, opened the city gates with the other and allowed the waiting Christian forces entry. For his efforts, King Alfonso Henriques of Portugal made Giraldo governor of the city. Évora’s main square, Praça Giraldo, is named after him.
Nevertheless, the majority of Évora’s most cherished monuments are somewhat later. The presence of Portuguese monarchs residing at Évora for considerable periods attracted the nobility who built the many baronial palaces still to be found throughout the city. In addition, a substantial number of artists, sculptors and craftsmen moved to Évora, and to a large extent this explains the presence of the good many exquisite examples of gold and silver work, gilding, tapestry, sculpture and painting in the city, many of which are on display in the Municipal Museum housed in the former Archbishop’s Palace.
But Évora contains so much history, so many tantalising legends and still so many beautiful buildings, Above all, the unique atmosphere of Évora must be experienced first hand. If you can, spend two or three days there; if not, try the following short-list for a day-trip -
Évora Sé Cathedral; open daily 9am – 12:30pm & 2-5pm). Cathedral Museum of Sacred Art (Treasury); Tues – Sun 9-11am & 2-4:30pm. Municipal Museum, Tues, 2:30-5:30pm, Wed-Sun 9:30am-12:30pm & 2:30-5pm. Temple of Diana; centre of old town Church of São João Evangelista, Tues-Sun 9:30-12:30am & 2:30pm-5:30pm. Igreja de São Francisco, and its Capela dos Ossos (Chapel of Bones); Praça de Maio, open daily 9am-1pm & 2:30-5:30 pm.
Where To Stay
There is no shortage of hotel accommodation in Évora, although prices tend to be rather high compared with other towns in the Alentejo. However, there is a selection of pensions and small hotels where prices are not quite so extravagant. For top quality, excellent food and superb surroundings, stay at the Pousada dos Lóios, Largo do Conde de Vila Flor (Tel: (00351) 266 704 051 or visit www.pousadas.pt). The following centrally located pensions are recommended: Pensão o Giraldo, Rua dos Mercadores, 27 (Tel: (00351) 266 705 833): There is no breakfast provided, but there is an extremely good bakery with its own café just opposite. Residencial Diana, Rua Diogo Cão, 2 (Tel: (00351) 266 702 008): interesting town house with comfortable rooms, breakfast is included. Residencial Policarpo, Rua da Freiria de Baixo, 16 (Tel: (00351) 266 702 424): considered one of the better places to stay in Évora, is housed in the former summer retreat of a 16th century aristocrat, with contemplative secluded courtyards.
Eating And Drinking
Évora is renowned for its smoked foods. Try smoked eel, tongue, turkey, duck or ham. Meanwhile the wines of the Alentejo, red or white, are considered to rank among the very best Portugal has to offer.
Évora is a university town and during term time there are plenty of reasonably priced places to eat and drink; you can even try the very inexpensive union bar at 21, Rua Diogo Cão. But outside term-time you will still have little difficulty in finding a quality restaurant to suit your taste and your purse. Here are some suggestions: Burgo Velho, Rua de Burgos Nº10, good solid Alentejano fare, very reasonably priced. Pane & Vino, Patio do Salema.
Robathans Algarve Property offers a selection of privately owned properties that are available as holiday homes and also luxury villas that are available for sale on Quinta do Lago, Vale do Lobo, Dunas Douradas and Vilamoura. To discuss the purchase of property on these resorts or booking a property for a holiday, make contact with Robathans Algarve Property. 01543 256 823