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

 

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13 thoughts on “The Alentejo: first afternoon in Évora

  1. Michael and I will be heading up from the Algarve towards Lisbon and Sintra in October. Do you think we should head to Evora for a couple of nights along the way?

    1. Hi Marianne! I think it’s worth it to spend two nights in Evora, so you have one full day. It wasn’t my favorite place in Portugal, but it’s still got a nice feel to it. Wait to see the rest of my post (tomorrow+) about Evora and then decide if you think it’s worthwhile. For a drive from where you live, it seems like the perfect stopping point. And it will be much cooler in October!

      By the way, you will love Sintra!! I loved it so much I decided I could actually live there very easily!! Also, make sure you visit Cascais for a day trip near Lisbon. Hopefully I’ll have all my posts done before you leave so you can see what these places are like!🙂 Sounds like you have a fun trip planned. Oh how I wish I was a European!!🙂

      1. I’ll put Cascais on my list then – thanks🙂 We might even make it up to Porto, but we have to wait until we close the pool for the winter (sometime after mid October depending on the temperature), and I have to be back in Malaga by November 7th for a meeting – so we’ll have to see if we have time for Porto. If not, then we will probably tag it on when we tour Salamanca, Avila and Segovia next April. So many plans – so little time!!

      2. Sounds like you have a busy fall, Marianne. Yes, so many plans and so little time!! I would have loved go to Porto, but alas, no time! I figure if I can get back for the Camino, I can maybe pin Porto to the end! 🙂

  2. I enjoyed my two nights in Evora, Cathy. We stayed at the Solar de Monfalim in case Marianne’s looking for somewhere. It was lovely on an evening when the Temple and cathedral are lit up. We were there in late October and it was coolish and damp some of the time.
    Your restaurant looked a good find. The food there is definitely “hearty”. Love the garlic bulb🙂

    1. If you didn’t have a shared bathroom in Solar de Monfalim, I would suggest Marianne stay there for sure! I don’t mind traveling cheaply, so every once in a while (Barcelona ~ which still wasn’t cheap despite the shared bathroom & Evora) I’ll put up with the shared bathroom. October is when Marianne plans to go; I think that would be the perfect time of year to travel through Europe!

      Can you believe I ate every bit of that garlic bulb?? That was the best tasting 6 euro meal I ate!🙂 And I loved that it was frequented by Portuguese rather than tourists! I was the only interloper there!

  3. Isn’t it nice to be where tourists aren’t. We like that too. I don’t even attempt to blog when we are travelling. I just set up enough posts to publish while we are away and schedule them all for different dates. I would love to be known as “Carol the Fearless”. Go Gerald!

    1. Ok, we’ll just call you Carol the Fearless from now on!

      I think I won’t attempt blogging while traveling again, Carol. Your suggestion is a good one. I think it’s better to write after taking some time to reflect anyway!

  4. Cathy, we had your iPad with keyboard all ready to go and you changed your mind at the last minute! Do you wish now you would have taken that instead? It would seem to me that you could have written all your blogs in Word as you felt like it still gotten your photos ready for upload without actually posting until you had an Internet connection…? By the way, I really enjoyed this post! I was not really loving all those Roman ruins and similar looking churches, but when you add a bit of yourself in your blog in addition to the travelogue, I really got so much more out of them!! This was so sweet and that garlic actually looked pretty good! I hope you try raw watercress on a cheese sandwich some time, it’s delicious, too! (BTW Bought wine by the way and always think of you when in the Spanish section of the store. You are missed!)

    1. I’m still glad I didn’t take that iPad; I could have used it only if I wasn’t trying to blog and I only wanted to check emails. As a matter of fact, I left that stupid keyboard behind in my apartment because it didn’t even work; what a waste of money!

      Well, I know it’s hard to enjoy those Roman ruins and cathedrals that all look alike; oh well, they were part of my trip and this is all about keeping a record for myself of the places I visited. Sometimes there isn’t much to say about myself as I’m just observing and quietly soaking in the things I see. Often I’m not very interesting and really have nothing to say about my thoughts. As a matter of fact, sometimes my mind is just a blank!🙂

      That garlic was delicious and so was that soup!! I wish I had some now!!

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