July 28, 2017

Things to See in the Historic Portuguese City of Évora


Évora

For history lovers, Évora doesn’t disappoint.

Located in the heart of Portugal’s Alentejo province and surrounded by rolling hills and vineyards in the city of Évora. The city is a web of streets meandering around historic Roman ruins, cathedrals, monasteries, old palaces, shops, a lively town square and aqueduct towering above. The city is also known for having really good restaurants. Évora has also been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is also a member of the Most Ancient European Towns Network.

Quick History of Évora

The origins of the city go back at least 2,000 years ago when it was a Roman outpost called Liberalitas Julia. As the Roman Empire grew in wealth, so too did Évora. When Roman authority collapsed, the Visigoths stepped in and ruled the city for a few hundred years until the arrival of the Moors in 715. The city prospered under Moorish rule but in 1147 was taken back by Christian forces under the outlaw/knight Geraldo Sempavor.

During the Middle Ages, Évora prospered and became the site of many royal weddings and ceremonies. The Portuguese kings showered Évora with ornate churches and a Jesuit University, today part of the University of Évora.

What to see in Évora

Cathedral Sé

Sé Cathedral

Like practically all Portuguese cities and towns, Évora also has its own Sé, or cathedral where a city’s bishop presides. Construction on this one was started in 1186 and finally consecrated eight years later in 1204. Like many medieval cathedrals, this one looks more like a fortress than a place of religious devotion. Along with the pretty stunning gothic architecture, the other highlights of the cathedral are its treasury/museum holding all sorts of priceless sacred art and the carved figures of the apostles that greet the visitor upon entrance to the building.

Largo do Marquês de Marialva, 7000
Évora, Portugal

Museu de Évora (Évora Museum)

Évora Museum

The Évora Museum was once a palace where the city’s bishops and governors used to live. Today though it’s a pretty awesome museum dedicated to all periods and things Évora. Inside are housed collections containing everything ancient Roman marble sculptures, beautifully-decorated Moorish art and numerous paintings by Portuguese masters. It’s arguably the best history museum in the city.

Largo do Conde de Vila Flor, 7000-804
Évora, Portugal

Temple of Diana

Temple of Diana

Speaking of Roman artifacts, you don’t just have be in the Évora museum to see them. In fact just behind the Sé Cathedral are the ruins of an ancient temple to the Roman goddess of the moon and hunt, Diana. Regardless of who was once worshiped here, only 14 of the temple’s granite Corinthian columns still remain standing. Explore the ruins during the day but also pass by at night to see them lit up for what makes an impressive luminary experience. This is reportedly also the best-preserved Roman monument in all of Portugal.

Largo do Conde de Vila Flor, 7000-863
Évora, Portugal

Aqueduto da Agua de Prata

Photo courtesy of wmf.org

Don’t let the architecture fool you; this aqueduct was not built during Roman times. It was however built in the 16th century, which makes it still pretty old. You can look up and pretty much see the aqueduct from any part of the city. Back in its day, the aqueduct was considered a local wonder because it could bring clean water from a reservoir some 9 kilometers away to the city’s central square (Praça do Giraldo, see below).
The architect was Francisco de Arruda, the same person who designed the famous Belém Tower in Lisbon.

Church of São Francisco

Chapel of Bones

This is a relatively ordinary 15th-century church with the exception of a chapel containing the bones of 5,000 monks. A sign at the entrance that reads “Nós ossos que aqui estamos, pelos vossos esperamos,” meaning “we bones that are here are waiting for yours.” I guess my years studying Portuguese in Brazil turned out to be good for something after all.

Praça 1º de Maio, 7000-650
São Pedro
Évora, Portugal

Praça do Giraldo

This is Évora’s main square that is popular among locals as a meeting place. It’s named after Geraldo Sempavor, meaning “Geraldo the Fearless,” supposedly an outlaw who chased the Moors from the city in 1147, allowing Portugal’s first King, Alfonso I, to capture it. Speaking of the Moors, the square is surrounded on its eastern side by a beautiful Moorish arcade. It looks like at least some remnants of Moorish rule still exist in Évora.

Sources and Further Reading:

UNESCO Évora Site

Évora Travelers’ Tips


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