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!
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)
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).
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.
The entrance to the Cathedral is through a portal flanked by 14th century stone apostles.
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.
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).
Across from the temple is a little park with sculptures and a great view over Evora, the Jardim de Diana.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
I even stop and put my camera on someone’s windowsill to take a picture of myself against a shabby-chic wall.
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! 🙂