The Alentejo: first afternoon in Évora

Tuesday, July 16:  I arrive this afternoon in Evora with no real idea of what I’m supposed to do or see here.  I know that my hotel is near the Cathedral of Evora, as the happy sing-song receptionist (“Holaaaaaa!”) has pointed out the way on the map of the town’s spiderweb-configured streets.  I skim through the guidebook and find many of the same things that many Spanish and Portuguese villages have: a medieval cathedral, a smattering of Roman ruins, and picturesque town squares.

Before I came to Evora, I thought it sounded in the guidebook like it was going to be similar to Toledo, Spain.  It turns out I’m right in some ways, wrong in others.  The similarity is a hilltop location with a warren of winding and convoluted narrow streets. The difference is in the feel of the town, especially as I first experience it.  It doesn’t seem quite as touristy as Toledo, but I find out later it’s only because I’m in the wrong part of town!  I’m in the part of town where the Portuguese actually live and work.  I like that!

balcony in Evora
balcony in Evora
today's newspapers in Evora
today’s newspapers in Evora

Due to its well-preserved old town center, still partially enclosed by medieval walls, and a large number of monuments dating from various historical periods, Évora is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

According to UNESCO, this museum-city, whose roots go back to Roman times, reached its golden age in the 15th century, when it became the Portuguese kings’ residence. Its unique quality stems from the whitewashed houses decorated with azulejos and wrought-iron balconies dating from the 16th to the 18th century. Its monuments had a profound influence on Portuguese architecture in Brazil. (UNESCO: Historic Centre of Évora)

a church in Evora
a church in Evora

Evora’s history goes back two millennia; it was known as Ebora by the Celtics.  The Romans made it a military outpost and an important center of Roman Iberia in 59 BC.  In 584, it was taken over by the Visigoths in the barbarian invasions and went into general decline.  In 715, it was conquered by the Moors and slowly began to prosper again.

Under Moorish domination, which came to an end in 1165, further improvements were made to the original defensive system as shown by a fortified gate and the remains of the ancient Kasbah.

Évora was wrested from the Moors through a surprise attack by Gerald the Fearless (Geraldo Sem Pavor) in September 1165. The town came under the rule of the Portuguese king Alfonso I in 1166. It then flourished as one of the most dynamic cities in the Kingdom of Portugal during the Middle Ages, especially in the 15th century. The court of the first and second dynasties resided here for long periods, constructing palaces, monuments and religious buildings. Évora became the scene for many royal weddings and a site where many important decisions were made (Wikipedia: Évora).

Interesting roofs and towers
Interesting roofs and towers

I have my first glimpse of the Cathedral of Évora.  Tomorrow I’ll explore it more thoroughly as it’s closed this afternoon, but here are a few outside views.  Mainly built between 1280 and 1340, it is one of the most important Gothic monuments of Portugal.

part of the Cathedral of Evora
part of the Cathedral of Evora
Cathedral of Evora
Cathedral of Evora
Cathedral of Evora
Cathedral of Evora

The entrance to the Cathedral is through a portal flanked by 14th century stone apostles.

portal to the Cathedral of Evora
portal to the Cathedral of Evora

I come across the Temple Romano, the remains of a Roman temple dating from the 2nd or early 3rd century.  According to Lonely Planet Portugal, it’s one of the best-preserved Roman monuments in Portugal, and probably on the Iberian peninsula.  Though it’s commonly called the Temple of Diana, there is no consensus about the deity to whom it’s dedicated.  Some archeologists believe it may have been dedicated to Julius Caesar.

Temple Romano
Temple Romano

It turns out the temple may be so well-preserved because it was walled up in the Middle Ages to form a small fortress, and then used as the town slaughterhouse.  It was uncovered late in the 19th century (Lonely Planet Portugal).

Temple Romano
Temple Romano

Across from the temple is a little park with sculptures and a great view over Evora, the Jardim de Diana.

Jardim de Diana
Jardim de Diana
rooftops of Evora
rooftops of Evora
Jardim de Diana
Jardim de Diana
rooftops in Evora
rooftops in Evora

It’s quite hot this afternoon, so I stop at a little cafe in the park to have a cold beer and rest.  Then I head back to my room to relax for a bit before heading out for dinner.  I pass this pretty church along the way.  I love the architecture of Portuguese churches.

buidling in Evora
church in Evora

When I go back out again in search of dinner, it doesn’t seem there are many options.  For a UNESCO World Heritage Site, I think it’s not very crowded or touristy.  I can hardly find any cafes where I can eat.  I finally come across this little cafe, O Cantinho da Beatriz, and see a photo for this 6 euro bowl of Sopa de Beldroegas.  It’s known as purslane, or watercress, soup in English.  I have no idea what’s in it, but I decide to be bold and try it.

Sopa de Beldroegas
Sopa de Beldroegas

I’m surprised by how wonderful it is!  It’s a simple soup, but very tasty, with potatoes, watercress, onions, and big cubes of cheese (I’m not sure what kind).  The large ball at the 4:00 position in the bowl is a HUGE head of garlic!  I think it’s a hunk of meat of some kind, but it’s not.  I eat the entire thing, cleaning out my bowl, even though it’s rich and very filling.  It’s one of those dishes that you can’t stop eating once you start because every bite is so delectable!

me at O Cantinho da Beatriz
me at O Cantinho da Beatriz

It’s so lovely sitting at this cafe and watching the local Portuguese congregating and drinking wine around a table, with people stopping along the street to join in or simply greet their neighbors at the table.  The waiter speaks good English and is a real gentleman, making me feel perfectly welcome.  This is one of the loveliest dinners I have alone during my trip.  It’s nice to be sitting amongst the Portuguese instead of among tourists for a change.

Buildings in Evora
Buildings in Evora

After eating that huge dinner with an accompanying Sagres beer, I decide I better walk a bit through the town.  It feels good to walk after a big and satisfying meal.  I enjoy taking pictures of the buildings with their walls of peeling paint and their scruffy doors.

Doors in Evora
Doors in Evora

I even stop and put my camera on someone’s windowsill to take a picture of myself against a shabby-chic wall.

me on the streets of Evora
me on the streets of Evora
shabby chic windows in Evora
shabby chic windows in Evora
An archway with shabby window overhead
An archway with shabby window overhead

I’m tired tonight from a day of travel, so I head back to Pensão Policarpo, where, because there is no internet connection in my room, I sit on the patio and do some blogging.  I’m still in Spain in my blog, and am getting further behind every day.  I now know the futility of trying to blog while traveling.  Next time, I will just take pictures and keep a journal and take along only an iPad to check emails.   I’m going to learn to pack light if it kills me! 🙂

the worn sign for Pensão Policarpo
the worn sign for Pensão Policarpo
me and the walls of Evora
me and the walls of Evora

 

Enhanced by Zemanta

bidding adieu to jo in tavira and a bus ride to evora

Tuesday, July 16:  This morning, while Jo and I have a leisurely breakfast, she tells me she wants to show me the castle before we leave for the bus station in Faro this morning.  She kindly offers to take my excess clothes with her to Britain when she returns home later this week so that we can avoid wasting time queuing at the post office this morning.  She says she doesn’t have much luggage and she can easily take it home, where it will probably be much cheaper to send it by surface from Britain.  I agree to take her up on her offer and give her 30 euros to mail the stuff from Britain.  (However, later, once I arrive home in the USA, I get the parcel way too early for her to have sent it by surface; so I suspect she mailed it by air!)  She’s way too nice!!  She also lent me her small Lisbon guide and asked me to mail it back to her when I return to the USA.

So, much to Jo’s and my relief, we forgo the post office and get me all packed up and showered.  Then we head out to have a quick look at what’s left of Tavira’s Castelo.  Outside the Castelo, we can see the pretty yellow rooftop of Convento da Graca, the pousada of Tavira.  The Pousada de Tavira,  Convento da Graça, is located in the Santo Agostinho Convent, founded by Dom Sebastião in the sixteenth century. (Pousada de Tavira, Convento da Graça)

Pousadas de Portugal is a chain of luxury, traditional or historical hotels in Portugal. Formerly run by the state, they are now run by the Pestana group, which in September 2003 won a public bid for the sale of 37.6% of mother company Enatur and for a 40-year running concession.

The Pousadas were created in the early 1940s by Government Minister António Ferro, also a poet and playwright, who had the idea of creating hotels that were both rustic and genuinely Portuguese. There are now 44 Pousadas installed in historic buildings (Wikipedia: Pousadas de Portugal).

a pretty building outside Tavira's Castelo
Convento da Graca

The remains of the Castelo are surrounded by a small but pretty garden.  According to Lonely Planet Portugal, the defense might date back to Neolithic times.  It was rebuilt by the Phoenicians in the 8th century and later it was taken over by the Moors.  What remains now is a 17th century reconstruction.  We can see views over Tavira from the ramparts and steps and the octagonal tower.  The gardens are very pretty and shady.

gardens at Tavira's Castelo
gardens at Tavira’s Castelo
gardens at Tavira's Castelo
gardens at Tavira’s Castelo
view of Tavira from the tower
view of Tavira from the tower
more gardens at Tavira's Castelo
more gardens at Tavira’s Castelo
gardens in Tavira's Castelo
gardens in Tavira’s Castelo

It’s really hard to get a picture of the overall Castelo because of the gardens within. Outside the castle walls sits the Church of Santa Maria do Castelo, built on the site of a Moorish mosque; it holds the tombs of Dom Paio Peres Correia and his knights. The church dates from the 13th century and the clock tower has been remodeled from the original Muslim minaret (Wikipedia: Tavira Municipality).  It is the main parish in Tavira.

Tavira
Church of Santa Maria do Castelo
parting shots of buildings in the Old Town of Tavira
Church of Santa Maria do Castelo

Parting Tavira, and leaving Jo, is such sweet sorrow!  She and Mick drive me the half hour to Faro, where I catch the 11:15 Rede Expressos bus to Evora.  When I get on the bus, I see there is no bathroom, which has me a little worried for what will be a 5-hour bus trip.  But I’m told by the bus driver that we’ll make a stop at a halfway point. Jo and Mick kindly wait in the bus station until my bus takes off, and then I’m on to the next leg of my trip through Portugal.

The bus ride is fairly uneventful.  I listen again to Brett Dennen on my iPod nano (I’m obviously addicted to his songs!), read about Evora in my guidebook, and look out the window at the dry golden plains, the rolling hillsides and green vineyards of the Alentejo, which covers a third of the country.

views of the Alentejo from the bus window
views of the Alentejo from the bus window
farmland in the Alentejo
farmland in the Alentejo
the Alentejo
the Alentejo

I finally arrive at Evora’s bus station, which is quite far from the center of town, and catch a taxi to my hotel, the PENSÃO POLICARPO.  The hotel occupies a building dating from the end of the 16th century, which was in earlier times the manor house of the Counts of Lousã (Pensão Policarpo).

Pensão Policarpo
Pensão Policarpo

This noble house has an imposing principal façade which faces south, and thus offers a panorama over the Alentejan plain.

On the other side, the house opens on to a small patio.

Pensão Policarpo's patio
Pensão Policarpo’s patio

My room is quite simple.  It has a sink in it, but the bathroom is a shared bathroom down the hall.  The fact that the room has a sink makes the shared bathroom situation a little more acceptable.

my room at Pensão Policarpo
my room at Pensão Policarpo
My room at least has a sink which makes the shared bathroom more palatable
My room at least has a sink which makes the shared bathroom more palatable

The receptionist at the hotel is very friendly.  Every time she greets me, she says “Holaaaaa!!” in a sing-song voice with the “la” very drawn out;  she makes me smile with every greeting!

the hallway from my room to reception at Pensão Policarpo
the hallway from my room to reception at Pensão Policarpo

I get settled in and study the map and the guidebook and head out to explore the town.

getting ready to explore
getting ready to explore