The Old Town of Évora is a captivating UNESCO World Heritage Site that will delight any architecture and history buff. I am only highlighting a few of the sites; there is so much more to see and explore, which our limited time didn’t allow.
The Roman Temple of Diana is the first visible landmark. Perched high on a hill; it is fenced off by a protective railing. Only a small part of the ruin remains visible. The temple was built in the first century and destroyed in the fifth century, when building of the church began. The structure encompassed most of the ancient Temple, whose columns became an integral part of the church building. The ruins of this Temple are considered the most important in Portugal.
To get a better appreciation of the extent of the city’s history and culture, we nimbly hopped aboard a horse-drawn carriage. It was well worth it, since our driver entertained us with background information on the different buildings and historical events.
Sé Cathedral (Episcopal Seat)
Walking further along,we were greeted by the magnificent fortified medieval Sé Cathedral, testament to the Crusaders’ victorious conquest of the Moors in 1892.
As Évora kept expanding during the 13th and 14th centuries, so did the city’s wealth, evidenced by the Cathedral’s building materials. Romanesque aspects were added to the imposing Gothic architecture.
Although Portugal’s religious centre moved to the capital, the Sé Cathedral remains an significant site for pilgrims and visitors alike.
Climbing to the rooftop, one is met with an arresting view of the city. Of note is the unique asymmetry of the towers. Rather than the customary uniform shapes, one tower is round while the other one is square, which at first glance, l found disorienting; as if the architect couldn’t decide on which form to create. The structure, clock and bell-tower are all fortified.
It is believed that the cathedral was built on the site where a mosque had stood; another testimony of the Crusaders’ victory over the Moors.
Once inside, the Gothic architecture is equally impressive, as seen through the pictures further down. The beautiful rose window allows the sunlight to pierce the sombre interior.
Another unusual feature, is the statue of a pregnant Virgin Mary, which was not an uncommon sight in that period in European culture. It is also the only remaining statue of its kind in Portugal, as in the late 15th. Century, the Pope (probably Innocent VIII) had the statues representing a pregnant Mary, removed.
The Iberian Organ is one of a kind and dates from the 16th. century
A walk around the cloisters evokes vivid images of its past grandeur. Climbing the circular stone staircase opens up another spectacular view of the city.
I highly recommend paying for the combo entrance fee, which grants access to all the areas, and won’t disappoint any culture and architecture enthusiast.
Here is a glimpse of the interior of this remarkable Cathedral
Praça de Giraldo – Giraldo Square
This beautiful 13 century square is surrounded by numerous cafés and restaurants. It had been designed to accommodate weekly market stalls. As the city grew, Praça de Giraldo became the centre of the city.
The square boasts the elaborate Henriquina fountain, built in the 1570s. Water from the Agua de Prata collected at the fountain, which in turn supplied the city’s needs through eight channels that transported water to eight streets.
This bright and inviting plaza also witnessed the bloody executions at the hand of the 16th. Century Spanish Inquisition. The cruel Spanish Inquisition held court at the Praça do Giraldo, immolating more than 22,000 people on large pyres, over a period of 200 years.
Furthermore, it is the site where in 1484, the Ferdinand Duke of Braganza was beheaded by his brother-in-law, King John II. The Duke had aligned himself with the Spanish to overthrow the Portuguese king. His execution was meant as a deterrent to anyone who might plot to harm the king, or any future conspiracy against John II.
With our heads full of the day’s impressions, we headed back to Hotel Évora for a well-deserved rest and a tasty meal accompanied by great Portuguese wine, in anticipation of the next episode in our journey. During dinner, a traditional men’s choir broke into spontaneous singing, to the delight of local and foreign guests. Here follows an excerpt of one of their songs.