Thursday, June 09, 2016

Évora, a Storied City


Temple of Diana
After days of rain, I finally got a healthy dose of Vitamin D while exploring the old town of Évora. The blue sky above this Roman temple from the 2nd century can attest to that. Fourteen granite Corinthian columns of the original eighteen have withstood the ravages of time. Meanwhile, time has given archaeologists fodder to believe that this temple may have been dedicated to Emperor Augustus and not to Diana, the Goddess of the Hunt and of Fertility. Food for thought: Not everything we believed to be true yesterday may not hold water today? Hmmmm.


Praça do Giraldo and the Igreja de Santo Antão
Who would have thought that this peaceful plaza surrounded by whitewashed townhouses with wrought iron balconies and graceful arched passageways was once the site of public executions during the Inquisition? It's noon and the folks have gone home to eat lunch leaving the plaza to a few wandering souls.

Nossa Senhora do O
This 15th century statue is an evocative portrayal of a heavily pregnant Mary, the mother of God. Notice her left hand over her stomach. The pope forbade the display of statues of a childbearing Mary in the late 15th century. Today, as in medieval times, women pray to this statue of Mary for fertility or for an easy labor and childbirth.

Notice also the gilded Baroque altar. There are many such altars in Portugal as a result of the lucrative trade routes established by their explorers during the Age of Discovery. Gold and spices were some of the commodities they brought home. This altar is inside the Cathedral of Évora.

Cathedral of Évora
The Sé Cathedral of Évora was built between 1190-1204 and was expanded in the late 13th century. The central nave (shown above) is framed by high pillars and barrel vaulting that are stitched with white mortar creating a striped effect. The high altar is made of polychrome marble in white, green, red and black. Natural light streams into the dark interior from the rose windows above the transept.

Chapel of Bones
"Nos ossos aqui estamos, pelos vossos esperamos." (We the bones that are here await yours.) These words are written above the portal of the Capela dos Ossos where there are thousands of human skulls and bones covering every inch of the walls and columns of the chapel. A not so subtle reminder that we are here on borrowed time. The Chapel is next door to the Igreja de São Francisco.

Colégio de Santo Spirito
The Universidade de Évora is the second oldest university in Portugal. It was founded in 1559 and was administered by the Jesuits. When the Jesuits were expelled from Portugal, the university was closed down and did not reopen until 1973. What a long hiatus! It must have been utterly frustrating for those students who wanted to pursue higher studies. The Colégio de Santo Spirito is the original campus and its walls are partially covered with tiles, a Portuguese architectural tradition. Decorative tiles indicate the courses offered at the university. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to enter the campus because there were classes being held at the time of our visit. But we saw the beautiful Renaissance cloister from the main entrance.

Evora outside the walls
White washed houses with yellow or gold trim and red rooftops are the norm in Évora. This unity in architectural style and the preservation of the "townscape" are two of the many reasons cited by UNESCO when they designated the historic center of Évora a World Heritage Site.

Souvenirs
Ornamental wrought iron wall hangings and plant holders are useful souvenirs from Évora. These can be found along Rua 5 da Outubro (which leads to the Sé Cathedral) where it's difficult to walk past without taking a second look.

How to get there:
There's a train that goes to Évora from the Oriente Train Station in Lisbon leaving at 7:02 a.m. and 9:02 a.m. Check their website, www.cp.pt, for up-to-date schedules.

Rede Expressos buses leave for Évora from Sete Rios bus station near Jardim Botanico every hour. www.rede-expressos.pt

I opted to take the Grayline day tour to Évora as it was more convenient for me and also included a tour of a winery in the Alentejo region and wine tasting. Tours start from the Praça Marquês de Pombal in Lisbon or ask your hotel concierge to arrange with Grayline for hotel pick-up and drop off. 74€ without lunch as of May 2016.

Where to stay:
Though I didn't stay overnight in Évora, I would like to stay at the Pousada Convento De Évora (which was formerly a convent) on my next visit. It's location can't be beat just across from the Temple of Diana. 
Pousada Convento de Évora
Largo Conde Vila Flor

*****

Images by TravelswithCharie


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