Evora: Six Centuries of History

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Rising dramatically from the Alentejo Plain, the city of Evora lies approximately 130km inland, due east of Lisbon. The surrounding area is one of vast rolling plains of olive trees, cork oaks fields of wheat and whitewashed cottages.

Evora was declared a UNESCO World Heritage City in 1986 with its Roman and Mediaeval buildings encircled by 17th century walls making it a veritable open-air museum. The area has many prehistoric monuments, which take the form of dolmens, menhirs and cromlechs, the oldest dating back to between 2000 and 4000 BC. Nicknamed “Portuguese Stonehenge” there are more than a hundred weathered monoliths with symbolic engravings. The nearby Cave of Escoural also has ancient cave paintings of horses and animals done in charcoal.

The University of Evora is just outside the city walls, and must be the only university to be housed in a former Jesuit monastery! The graceful cloisters and decorative “azulejos” tiles add character to this lovely campus and the nearby 18th century Baroque chapel is used for graduation ceremonies. Also outside the city walls is the Silver Water Aqueduct beneath which visitors will see that unique homes have been built to take advantage of the old arches.

Things to Do in Evora

Although Evora is within easy reach of the coast, a visit to Evora is really all about the amazing history and architecture of the city. There are a host of attractions and things to do. Evora is a city best explored on foot so that the detail of each building can be admired to the full. The city is centred around the Sé, the impressive fortress-like cathedral which was built in 1186. It was where the flags of Vasco da Gama’s ships were blessed before his voyage to India. Two unmatched towers flank the doorway and inside the cathedral is a treasure house of sacred art. The piéce de résistance is the 13th century ivory virgin whose body opens to reveal intricately carved scenes depicting events in her life. Checkout the long nave and the Renaissance organ, possibly the oldest in Europe.

Visitors do not have to walk far to the next attraction for the Museo de Evora is in the 16th century palace right next door. Older still is the Roman temple which faces the museum. This was erected in the 2nd century and was probably dedicated to Diana, goddess of hunting.

Evora’s impressive architecture continues with Moorish arcades and a central Renaissance-style fountain in the main Praça do Giraldo. The surrounding buildings now house cafés and small craft shops which make pleasant browsing for authentic souvenirs.

Local Food and Drink

Eating and drinking is part of the pleasure of a visit to Evora. From pavement cafés to Michelin starred restaurants, dining out is a memorable pleasure. The cuisine is influenced by the products brought back from the voyages of discovery such as tomatoes, potatoes, coffee and spices.

Visitors to Evora may want to dine at “O Fialho’s” where the traditional cuisine is acclaimed throughout Portugal and regularly attracts diners from as far away as Lisbon.

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