You can do this in a day trip, though you won’t have time to do the town the justice it so well deserves; an overnight stay is perfect (the pousada is spectactular) or, if your diary won’t allow, you could divide your itinerary into two and make a return day trip to complete the picture. Once there – and it is an easy drive up the A2 of just a couple of hours, before heading to Évora’s main town, it’s worth making a visit to Cromeleque dos Almendres.
These circular forms are remains of the times when Celtic tribes settled in this area. Straight, grey stones seemingly grow from the soil, located in perfect order and circular patterns. They might not make sense to people who look at them now, but back at that time, they held power and were transmitters of magic in which the Celts believed.
The most remarkable sign of those times is enchanted in the name of the city, then Ebora Liberalitas Julia. The Celts, as people who were connected with nature and its rules, reach out to trees to find the perfect name for the place where they stayed. It originates in the word Ebora, which in Celtic means yew. Évora is supposed to be a place where yew trees grew.
Over time, pagan gods were mixed together. As the Romans changed the name of the Greek gods, they also displaced Celtic beliefs with their own. The Romans expanded their Empire, reaching further to include Portugal, a land rich in natural resources.
With a new culture, new needs were born. The small settlement was replaced with a striving town, surrounded by defensive walls. Ancient spells and runes were replaced with grave business talk. Situated on the cross of crucial routes, Évora started to blossom.
Religious life and a connection with gods, especially gods of nature, were still important. Till this day, the remains of a Roman temple decorate the centre of Évora. Corinthian columns proudly stand on the wobbly foundations. Pillars destroyed by time, weather, and other cultures, still hold reflections of architrave. The temple was probably dedicated to Diana, the goddess of hunting and fertility.
Pliny the Elder, a Roman author and philosopher, described Évora in his opus magnum, Naturalis Historia, calling the place Ebora Cerealis. One look at the panorama of Évora is enough to know where the name came from. Eclectic buildings from different centuries are surrounded by a halo of flat Alentejan fields that in the summer light turn into gold.
In 1166, the city became one of the most significant in Portugal. It experienced intense growth, financially and culturally. Aristocratic palaces, monuments, and churches filled the city, covering Arabic buildings and erasing previous eras from the collective consciousness. The royal families liked Evora, and often visited it; sometimes, the aristocracy came here to discuss important topics, sometimes just for pure pleasure.
One of the most important buildings from this era is the emblematic cathedral church. Erected between 1186 and 1204, it stands on the highest spot in the city, dending respect it with its simple splendour. From Romanesque structures, gothic rosettes emerge; pinnacles point towards the sky, creating a spectacle of details that decorate the roof and towers of the temple. Golden baroque altars and mendelian details give a spark to the dark interior, with the simple walls supported by lancet bows.
The bells of Évora cathedral often rung for royal weddings. It was also a place for other crucial events in which noble families of Portugal were involved. According to beliefs, Vasco da Gama and his fleet got a blessing in this church before heading into the ‘unknown world’.
Time for Art, Culture, and Science
Similarly to other European countries, the Renaissance brought the new age to Portugal, where knowledge and art were some of the main virtues. Évora became the centre of humanistic ideas, where great minds could create and confront. Painters, sculptors, composers, and writers found a shelter and home in this charming city.
Visiting Évora is like uncovering successive events in a well-written mystery book. To discover some places, one must go through others that are more visible. Sometimes they’re out of chronological order, as history is mixed. Tangled in its secrets. In a city with such a rich past, it’s normal that one story overlaps another.
A perfect example of this historical mash-up is the Igreja de São Francisco. A gothic church of the Franciscan order hides a unique gem in its basement. While visiting the Capela dos Ossos, a chapel where the walls are decorated with human skulls and bones, one can feel uncomfortable. Erected in the 17th century, the chapel reflects the religious idea of the century, where thoughts about mortality and salvation were interesting for many thinkers.
Évora is a perfect place to learn about the Portuguese past. Located a bit off the beaten path, it is a calm, yet charming town, well worth visiting. Tangled streets encourage one to get lost, and just follow the flow. Peek in the backyard of an old house or visit an inconspicuous looking church and discover a whole new world.
TOP SITES TO SEE
- There are many, but these are absolute musts:
- The Cathedral
- Igreja de Sao Franscico and its bone chapel
- Evora Museum
- The Historic Centre
- Convento dos Lóios
- The Megaliths
- Praca do Giraldo
- The Univsity
- The Aqueduct
- The public gardens
TO GET THERE
By car, take the A2 from its start at the Ferreiras junction on the A22. The train from Faro to Evora is a bit long-haul, taking over four hours.
WHERE TO STAY
Pousada Conventi de Evora, 5star
A minute’s walk from the Roman temple, this upscale hotel in a former monastery is a two-minute walk from the Cathedral of Évora and seven minutesfrom the Capela dos Ossos. Lots of little luxurious detailing make the thoroughly contemporary old cells of the Lóios monks a special treat.pousadas.pt/pt/hotel/pousada-evora
The Noble House, 4-star
The oldest hotel in the city the building has its origins in the 15th century, this is a true example of an Alentejo noble lodge. Every room tells its own bit of history; the Garden Suite, built into the old roman-gothic city wall, is spectacular. Portuguese dishes are erved in the Bistro restaurant. thenoblehouse.pt
Vitoria Stone House, 4-stars
In need of a bit of spoiling? There an excellent spa here, with all the musthave facilities. The hotel gets its name from thetraditional stone walls which add a special character. The bar overlooks the rooftops of Evora.
Valeriana Exclusive Guesthouse, 4-stars
Previously home of a couple of pharmacists, this charming hotel is named after a medicinal plant which harnesses the power of relaxation. And you can book in advance for a ‘slowcooking’ session, perfect for family fun.
WHERE TO EAT
- Amendoas Restaurant
- Botequim da Mouraria
- Restaurante O Templo
- Taberna Tipica Quarta Feira
- Triangular – Hamburgueria Artesanal
For menus, opening times, location etc., please check online
In Évora, ancient reminiscences mix with Islamic culture. Medieval architecture and decorated baroque sculptures hide art from previous centuries.
Words: Anna Zielanzy