Day 6 - Evora
We awoke in our "cell" in the Pousada Loios in Evora ready for a day of walking and exploring this very friendly and charming medieval town. As mentioned yesterday, the Pousada is a converted convent, and the monks quarters which are now guest rooms are referred to as "cells". This particular pousada was converted to a hotel in the mid 1960’s and we loved the furnishings and other pieces through the hotel.
In the morning, we joined a very knowledgeable and witty local guide, Maria Jose, who lead us through the major points of interest and then in the afternoon we explored on our own.
Evora, a UNESCO World Heritage site, has an ancient heritage - it was an important outpost at the western edge of Hispania during the Roman Empire (the "end of the world"). As a result there are Roman ruins found here, the most prominent being the so-called Temple of Diana (there is no written proof that the temple was dedicated to Diana, it’s more of a local legend). Like much of Portugal and Spain, the culture had many influences - there were historically native tribes, then the Romans conquered the Iberian peninsula for about 500 years, followed by the Visigoths for a period, the Moors for 400 years, and finally the Christians.
We began with the Temple of Diana, directly next door to our Pousada and the immediate environs on the highest point inside the walled city. The Cathedral of Evora, our next stop, was built in the late 12th-early 13th century and is a large gothic-style granite structure that features artwork from both the Gothic and Renaissance periods. One striking example of the contrast is a gothic statue of a rarely depicted pregnant Virgin Mary opposite a renaissance Archangel Gabriel. The church also features an accessible bell tower (106 steps) and a walkable roof, which Jim climbed and explored later in the afternoon.
We then headed downhill toward the main town square. Cork is an important local product, and the Portuguese are working to broaden the usage of cork into other areas. As a result, there are many shops along the way selling cork wallets, handbags, coasters, and even a cork bikini!
We detoured to the city hall of Evora inside of which was discovered an ancient Roman bath.
We finally reached the main town square, named for Geraldo, the knight who is credited with liberating Evora from the Moors in the late 12th century. It is a large, bustling square with lots of shops and restaurants.
Our guide told us about the inquisition and the impact on the town. For a brief period of about 150 years, Christian, Muslims, and Jews lived peacefully among each other. This changed with the inquisition which segregated these groups into separate neighborhoods, and finally led to expulsion and worse. A meager plaque near the center of the square inadequately commemorates this atrocity.
Further downhill, away from the square is the Church of St. Francis which feature one of the strangest and most morbid sites ever: the Chapel of the Bones. The interior of the chapel is made up entirely of human bones - the idea was that this was to be a place to meditate upon the transitory nature of life, and how we all, rich and poor, end up the same. Above the entrance is the inscription: "We bones here, for yours await".
After that pleasant experience, we went off to lunch. We found a lovely restaurant on a quiet street away from the tourists that featured a local favorite, duck rice - a duck confit baked into a flavored rice. Along with a glass of Portuguese rosé, it was a perfect lunch.
After lunch it was time for some shopping for Wendy while Jim returned to the cathedral to climb the bell tower and get another view of the town.
Late in the afternoon, we met our guide for a brief tour of Evora University and a little bit of information about higher education in Portugal. Dating back to the 1500’s, this is the second oldest university in Portugal. The classrooms still feature the high lecterns and allegorical porcelain tile walls of the Middle Ages, although modern classes use tables and chairs rather than benches and lecterns. College is a three-year program in Portugal, paid for mostly by the state. Unfortunately job opportunities, while improving slightly, are still meager and salaries are low. As a result, many graduates leave Portugal for other EU countries to work.
Finally we headed back to our pousada for some pre-dinner liquid refreshment and a lovely dinner featuring another local specialty, braised pork cheeks.