Wednesday, July 17: I wander the streets a lot during my one full day in Evora, and here are some of the street scenes. I’m fascinated by the Portuguese doors, windows, and balconies, the peeling paint on the building facades. the patterned pebble sidewalks, and the strange-shaped roofs.
Click on any of the photos below for a full-sized slideshow.
In my wanderings, I come across the huge arches of the Água de Prata Aqueduct(Aqueduct of Silver Water). This 9km-long aqueduct was built in 1531–1537 by King João III to supply the city with water. The end part of the aqueduct is remarkable with houses, shops and cafés built between the arches.
Água de Prata Aqueduct
Buildings built into the arches of the Água de Prata Aqueduct
Água de Prata Aqueduct
Água de Prata Aqueduct
Água de Prata Aqueduct
I also pass by the Temple Romano another time.
For my last night in Evora, I have a wonderful meal at Restaurante S. Luis, which the receptionist at Pensão Policarpo has recommended. I love the warm atmosphere and the fact that it’s off the beaten tourist track and frequented by the Portuguese.
I have a glass of wine, bread and olives. These olives may be the best I have ever tasted!
And then I order Balcalhau a Nuno Neves(a posta assado no forno), which is a wonderful codfish with potatoes and broth served in a hot steaming dish. It’s delicious. 🙂
I relax for my last evening on the patio of Pensão Policarpo. Tomorrow morning, I head for Sintra, about a half-hour west of Lisbon.
Wednesday, July 17: After visiting the Cathedral, I take a long walk to the far side of town and I discover (Voila!) this is where all the tourists are! I have been on the quiet side of town and wondered why I seemed to have Évora all to myself.
I finally come across Giraldo Square (Praça do Giraldo), which is considered the center of the city. The Renaissance fountain (fonte Henriquina) dates from 1570. Its eight jets symbolize the eight streets leading into the square.
At the northern end of the square lies St. Anton’s church (Igreja de Santo Antão), also from the 16th century. In 1483 Fernando II, Duke of Braganza, was decapitated on this square, in the presence of his brother-in-law King John II. This square also witnessed thousands of autos-da-fé (rituals of public penance of condemned heretics and apostates that took place when the Portuguese Inquistion had decided their punishment, followed by the execution by the civil authorities of the sentences imposed) during the period of the Inquisition; 22,000 condemnations, it seems, in about 200 years (Wikipedia: Évora).
I stop at a cafe in the square for a little bowl of bean soup for lunch.
I’m in search of the St. Francis Church, known in Portuguese as the Igreja de São Francisco. I find it, but when I arrive it is after 1:00 and it’s closed for siesta time. It opens again at 2:30, so I have some time to kill. I don’t want to walk all the way back to the other side of town, so instead I visit the Jardim Público de Évora, just south of the Church.
It’s quite hot at this time of day. Sometimes I wonder why on earth I’m out here in the heat while everyone else is taking a siesta! I sit down next to a fountain just to hear the sound of the flowing water and imagine being cool.
On the way out, I encounter these pretty peacocks and I keep waiting and hoping they will spread out their feathers for a turquoise and green color extravaganza. They never oblige me with a show. 😦
I find this little Moorish inspired pavilion, where I take shelter in the shade for a few moments.
And I find this pretty little garden as I make my way out.
When I leave the gardens, the Church of St. Francis is still not open, so I wander up the street a bit, where I make a brief stop to admire the Largo da Graça, a church nearby that’s designated as a national monument. It too is closed for siesta.
Since all the sights seem to be closed for siesta, I find a little bakery where I stop for a cold drink and a pastel de nata. I think I’m developing an addiction to these sweet delectable treats.
Finally, when I return to St. Francis Church, I head straight for one of the chapels decorated in Baroque style, the Capela dos Ossos, or the Chapel of Bones, totally covered with human bones. First I enter through the Chapter House, which was transformed at the end of the 19th century into the Capela dos Passos. The space was decorated with tile paneling alluding to the Passion of Christ.
Built in the first half of the 17th century, as an extension of the Chapter House of the Convent of São Francisco, the Chapel of Bones is an invitation to reflect on the transitory nature of the human condition, summarized in the words above its entrance: WE BONES HERE, FOR YOURS AWAIT (Nós ossos que aqui estamos pelos vossos esperamos).
The walls and columns are lined with the carefully arranged bones and skulls of some 5,000 people, held together by cement. Most of the bones came from the cemeteries that were situated inside several dozen churches. Some of these skulls have been scribbled with graffiti. Two desiccated corpses, one of which is a child, dangle from a chain (Wikipedia: Capela dos Ossos). According to Lonely Planet Portugal, 17th century Franciscan monks constructed this as a memento mori (reminder of death).
The ceiling’s decoration, dating from 1810 and full of symbols, allegories and quotations from the Holy Scriptures, affirms another life in the glory of God.
I then go next door to St. Francis Church, or the Igreja de São Francisco, which was built between the end of the 15th and the early 16th centuries in mixed Gothic-Manueline styles. It was dedicated to St. Francis. The wide nave is a masterpiece of late Gothic architecture. Legend has it that the Portuguese navigator Gil Vicente is buried here (Lonely Planet Portugal).
After exploring this area of town, I simply enjoy walking through the streets of Evora in search of the Água de Prata Aqueduct (Aqueduct of Silver Water).
Wednesday, July 17: After visiting the Universidade de Évora, I climb to the top of the hill to visit the Cathedral of Évora. When I first enter the Cathedral, I pay a mandatory entrance fee to visit the museum and cathedral and am sent up the stairs to the choir stalls, the museum and the roof. From the choir stalls above, I’m able to get this picture of the central nave. The baroque main chapel is in the background. The large nave has a pointed barrel vault. The interior space is accentuated by the use of white mortar on the bare high walls, pillars and vaults.
It was Gerald the Fearless (Geraldo Sem Pavor) who definitively reconquered Evora from the Arabs in 1166. Soon afterwards, the new Christian rulers of the city began to build a cathedral dedicated to the Virgin Mary. This first building, built between 1184 and 1204, was very modest and was enlarged circa 1280-1340, this time in early Gothic style. The cathedral received several valuable additions through time, such as the 14th century Gothic cloisters, the 16th century Manueline chapel of the Esporão and a new main chapel in baroque style (first half of the 18th century). It is the largest of the medieval cathedrals in Portugal and one of the best examples of Gothic architecture (Wikipedia: Cathedral of Évora).
My favorite thing about visiting this Cathedral is getting to clamber about on the roof. I think it’s fun to take pictures up here, with its great views of Évora below and its fascinating architectural features.
I even find a flat surface on the roof where I can set my camera with the 12-second timer to take a picture of myself. Everyone wants pictures of themselves in the places they visit and I’m no exception, but I can’t take many because I’m by myself. So it’s always great when I can find a ledge somewhere to place my camera. Especially when the ledge is at a decent height so the picture isn’t too unflattering. 🙂
Walking back down the steep circular stairs, I find myself in the Gothic-style cloisters, built between 1317 and 1340. The use of granite in the cloisters’ Late-Gothic tracery gives it a heavy-looking overall impression. I’ve seen a lot of beautiful cloisters on this trip, but this set is not one of my favorites because of its bulkiness. I prefer the more delicate cloisters I’ve found, especially at the Alcazar in Seville and the Monastery of San Juan de los Reyes in Toledo.
Each corner of the cloister gallery has a marble Gothic statue of one of the Four Evangelists. The Capela do Fundador, the funerary chapel of bishop D. Pedro, builder of the cloisters, features his tomb with recumbent figure, a statue of the Archangel Gabriel and a polychromed statue of Mary.
Finally, I’m deposited into the inside of the Cathedral where I can walk around the nave and the main chapel, which was totally rebuilt between 1718 and 1746, a work sponsored by King John V. The style favoured by the King and his architect was Roman baroque, with polychrome marble decoration (green marble from Italy, white marble from Montes Claros, red and black marble from Sintra) and painted altars. Although its style does not really fit into the medieval interior of the cathedral, the main chapel is nevertheless an elegant baroque masterpiece.
In the middle of the central nave there is a large 15th century Baroque altar with a polychrome Gothic statue of a pregnant Virgin Mary.
The Cathedral of Évora was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988.
Here are some late afternoon pictures of the exterior of the cathedral, with its pretty rose granite facade.
Wednesday, July 17: This morning, I meander out in the town knowing there’s a lot to see and hoping throughout the day to hit most of it. I don’t even have much of a plan; I just start walking and soon I run into the Universidade de Evora, unmarked, with its door open to the world. I have heard from my friend Jo that there are some nice cloisters here, so I go in search of them.
The current university, which was reopened in 1973, descends from the original Jesuit institution founded in 1559. Two hundred years after its founding, in 1759, due to the Jesuit expulsion promoted by the Minister of the Kingdom, Marquis of Pombal, it was closed.
I love the painted entryway.
The doorway is flanked by azulejos (hand-painted tiles) for which Portugal is famous.
Azulejo is a form of Portuguese painted, tin-glazed, ceramic tilework. It has been produced without interruption for five centuries. The azulejos are found on the interior and exterior of churches, palaces, ordinary houses and even railway stations. They are applied on walls, floors and even ceilings. They are not only used as an ornamental art form, but also have a specific function of temperature control. Many azulejos chronicle major historical and cultural aspects of Portuguese history. (Wikipedia: Azulejo)
It’s only as I wander through the halls of higher learning that I figure out it is, in fact, the university. Here’s one clue!
Inside are the beautiful arched, Italian Renaissance-style cloisters that Jo told me about.
And here’s me, resting with the azulejos, before venturing back into the town.
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.
the other side of the Cathedral’s portal, with the other stone apostles
14th century stone apostles at the portal to the Cathedral de 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.
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! 🙂
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).
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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!
I get settled in and study the map and the guidebook and head out to explore the town.