7 Highlights of Évora

7 Highlights of Évora

Come to Portugal and immerse yourself in so much more than golden sand between your toes. Whilst the beaches entice any sun seeker, Portugal cries out to be heard on the historical stage. A saunter inland will open up a history lesson that will give your Portuguese experience a depth and context that will not disappoint. And it is the Alentejos region’s capital Évora that offers our classroom today… Come on in and check out our highlights of this ancient capital steeped in Roman and Gothic ghosts.


Where to find Évora


Évora is one of those places that whilst is built up on the outside, offers a compact and charming presence on the inside, sheltering its Roman ruins, cobbled streets and ample churches by protective city walls. Évora sets the scene for battle, conquests and supremacy which vibrate in its very foundations. And such is its importance that it has earned itself UNESCO status and is a member of the Most Ancient European Towns network according to Wikipedia.

No more than 2 hours away from Lisbon, Évora is in easy reach, albeit probably not in a day trip. We headed east from the coast at Comporta for a bit of a beach break and found some amazing off-the-beaten track routes through rural Portugal. Surrounded by landscape littered with ancient megaliths, Évora has a real tale to tell going back 5000 years!

The Roman’s took charge of Évora in 57BC where baths and much of the city walls remain as a testimony to this period. Nearly 600 years later the Moors conquered Évora and they ruled for over 400 years until the Portuguese took charge in 1166. Much of Portugal under the reign of King Alfonso was released from Moorish rule and its identity today is significantly shaped by this epoch. Since then Évora has endured more battles and each time it seems that this small town has been a stalwart standing the test of time and war. 

With Évora’s colourful past, each building knits together a visual storyboard to entertain its visitor and these are the magnets that draw thousands of tourists each year. We took our bicycles in to the city, which is not to be recommended as the streets are steep, cobbled and a lot of them are one-way making it difficult to reach places. So we suggest using the map below to do a self-guided tour. Click on the map for an Interactive Tour of Évora.

<iframe src="https://www.google.com/maps/d/embed?mid=1DCBqM7L-503pI6HIzGynvlkslu4MmrsY&hl=en" width="640" height="480"></iframe>


Évora’s 7 Highlights


1. Aquaduct

The Roman Empire is known for its engineering prowess and the aqueduct is one of their legacies still visible today. And Évora’s aqueduct is a great example of their genius. We were lucky enough to be able to park alongside this magnificent and ancient symbol and just a two minute stroll through the city gates, and you can walk the length of the structure to its origin (38.57596, -7.91292).  What is lovely to note is how the houses are built into the arches. There are examples of this throughout the town; modern supporting ancient, what an interesting symbiosis. (38.57147, -7.90975)



2. Praça do Giraldo

Évora’s beating heart can be found in the Giraldo Square. Not really square, more of an oblong, although characterful none the less. It is here that you will find the Tourist Information office which we suggest is your next station stop for a map. A useful phrase is Posso ter uma mapa por favor? Can I have a map please? (38.57063, -7.90941)

From here you can look up towards the regal Saint Antonio church, which has so much personality yet is dressed in simplicity compared to the Gothic architecture that frames the Square’s edges. Giraldo invites you to stop for a coffee and people watch or may be indulge in a Portuguese Nater, especially good if you have a sweet tooth.


3. Roman Temple and Cathedral

Perhaps one of Évora’s most famous landmarks are her Roman ruins. (38.57259, -7.90729). The temple known as the Diana Temple is in the heart of the museum quarter and somehow conveys a robustness about the Roman Empire. It has itself so much history with its identity changing throughout the centuries. Its role has evolved from being part of the castle, an abattoir and a log store. The ruins are in a remarkable condition and with the backdrop of the Cathedral and the little park, it’s a lovely area to hang out for a bit.  Do check out the view from the edge of the gardens, overlooking Évora’s rooftops and to the city’s exterior. 


4.  Town Hall and Roman baths

This old palace is now home to the political hub of the town and its area. This is a magnificent Square bordered by a church and financial buildings.  Entry into the Town Hall is permitted for free, as are the Roman baths, which we wish we had visited. (38.57228, -7.90963)


5.  Chapel of Bones

Aside the Roman ruins, Évora’s other significant draw is the Capela dos Ossos – Chapel of Bones. (38.56873, -7.90884)  For a €5pp entry ticket you can get access to this most eery and yet fascinating place of worship and meditation. This tiny 16th chapel in the grounds of the Church of St Francis is a thought-provoking visit. Built by monks as a solution to the growing number of cemeteries around the town; they interned the bones and in a bid to honour the dead, decided to put them on display within the structure of this building. 5,000 corpses today form the fabric of the chapel; bones and skulls don the walls, the pillars and the architrave. It is the most bizarre form of art; art that holds a message for its viewer, prompting them to think beyond the visual display in front of them – the transitory nature of life. The Chapel makes you reflect on the journey of life and how we rush through the days without pause for the moment. It’s a sobering visit. 


6.  Church of St Francis

Whilst dropping in to pay your respects to the bones, you may be forgiven for feeling so overwhelmed that you miss the Church of St Francis, which is the main body of this area. It sits on the roots of a church dating back to 1200’s. Its Gothic design is impressive and as you walk into the longest nave of any Portuguese church, its gilting will wow you. There’s gold everywhere. It really does deserve a short visit. 


7.  Cycle/Walk around the city walls

After the reflections from the Chapel of Bones, heading to the gardens just beneath the church brings your mind back to the beauty of the world. (38.56734, -7.91001).  There were lots of repairs going on when we visited, although I imagine it is full of splendour in the summer months. With its bandstand and peacocks, it’s a lovely place to wander. And from here you can access part of the upper walk around the walls, feeling the past beneath your feet. And then continuing your route on the lower level, you can trace your steps back to the beginning of your walking tour and end up at the aqueduct once more.



Évora – our conclusions 

If you love history, culture and context, then Évora will be a great place to visit. If you need a break from the coast, Évora will satisfy your need for curiosity – just for a day. Its cobbled streets are not just atmospheric, they are a piece of history’s jigsaw that will leave you understanding just a little more about Portugal. It will leave you richer for standing in the footprints of our ancestors before we head back to the inevitable draw of the western sunsets and crashing waves. We highly recommend this little detour in your Portugal tour. 


Why not pin this for later?


Other articles that might interest you 


Search for the big yellow ball in the sky.

Search for the big yellow ball in the sky.

So, after what seemed like an age of organising, logisticising and planning ( in fact it was only 3 months) we set off on our year long (or maybe two) motorhome trip around Europe. It was March 4th 2016. ‘Scoobie’ our Pilote 740c motorhome had arrived, had been kitted out and was ready to go. The rental house was handed back to the landlord, our furniture was squashed into a ‘big yellow’ unit and off to Padstein we went, just for a few days before we headed off.

The weather was inclement when we arrived in Cornwall as it had been for ten whole weeks leading up to our trip but that was OK because our first port of call was Spain and it was March so it will be warming up nicely we thought.  When I say inclement what I mean is lashing down with sleet, thunder and lightening. It didn’t seem to matter even though it had rained solidly since christmas because  all our hard preparation had to come an end and now was the time to get a little excited. After all, it’s not every day you sell up and head off to who knows where for who knows how long in a 7.5 meter tin can on wheels. Some 24 hours later and 800 miles further south we landed in Santander on Spain’s northern coast,  to find well, err, the same weather as we had left in Padstow… ‘Not a great start, I mused,  but it’ll warm up in a day or two, surely.

After two days of torrential rain, thunder and lightening  we decided to say goodbye to the elephant park, our first stop after disembarkation and headed south to find sunnier climes.  Most of the other Motorhomes that joined us that first night, we presume, had jumped on the motorway and blasted south to Marbella or somewhere like that but we wanted to explore the northern part of Spain as it looked fabulous on the maps. Surely Burgos, two hours drive away, would be warmer. We took our time and meandered along the ‘A’ roads up and over the hills, climbing up one hairpin after another. Over the hills, over the ‘SNOW’ covered hills we crawled, winding our way down the other side. SNOW, FLIPPIN SNOW!!!  This wasn’t part of the plan. Maybe those other Motorhomes knew something we didn’t.

It was snowing when we got to Burgos, a light dusting was forming over the camp ground as we manoevered Scoobie into place. We really didn’t do much as it was so cold you could freeze prawns on the cooker but we managed a bike ride into town avoiding the snow showers as we went. We had received the heads up about a building worth oggling over so we thought we’d take a look  and err, well, yeah actually, it was worth the frost bitten fingers and stinging earache. Wow, it was impressive.  A big church! No, a really big church. We took the tour just to warm up and allegedly history would have you believe that around 1250AD some unsavoury types with bad attitudes came up from the south to pillage, rape and claim land as their own and the christians who had settled there had to put some manners on them. Handbags were thrown and a christian victory ensued and they built this cathedral as commemoration of their glory. Some wine was drunk, a few boars slaughtered, a few more christians entered the world nine months later ( presumably) and everyone lived happily ever after.

Personally, I have no idea what these unsavoury types were thinking. I would have stayed south in the warm which is precisely what we had come to Spain to look for… warmth. Not wanting to prolong our arctic discomfort any longer we packed up and took the high road south to Segovia just north of Madrid. Surely it would be warmer there, it’s just north of Madrid. It was flippin colder, a perishing  ‘0’ degrees. That’s ZERO. Too cold to snow! As I walked around this ‘not to be missed’ beautiful Roman town complete with aqueduct, cathedral and palace, I felt my ‘stiff upper lip’ quiver as I tried to revive my frost bitten fingers once again. The thin film of light grey cirrus cloud prevented the sun from heating the ground, the icy wind piercing through 4 layers of clothing at the turn of every corner of this beautiful place. I couldn’t help thinking ‘What the hell were the Romans doing building a town here’.

In very basic Spanish I  asked a local if this was normal weather. He said.. ‘yada yada yada’. I said ‘wha?’ He said ‘yada yada yada’. I said ‘wha?’ He said ‘yada yada yada’. Not a clue if it was normal weather or not but whether it was or wasn’t it was effin freezing. Does’t really matter because  the  upshot of the lowdown is that Segovia should deffo be on the todo list, just leave it till May and stay in the freebie site in the carpark by the Bullring. It was clean, tidy and graffiti free. No electric but a dump and water. Perfick.

As we headed off to our next stop, Salamanca, I was full of hope. With the aid of a google search I had fathomed that Segovia sits a whopping 3000 plus feet above sea level, no wonder it was brassic. The further west we went and the lower we descended, the more the clouds broke up and the more the outside temperature gauge on the dash went up and up. 2, 4, 7… 9… Hey up I thought, I’m on to a winner here… It seemed to stay on 9 for an age but then just outside Salamanca a miracle happened… BOOM…10, TEN DEGREES then 11 then 12… ‘Give someone a lollypop… DOUBLE FIGURES!!! You beauty. And there it was, in all it’s glory….. the Sun.

The quest for the big yellow ball in the sky was over. Poking out from behind a little fluffy cumulo cloud in the big blue sky it was a joy to behold… After a brief trip to the hozzie to recover from mild hyperthermia, we unhitched the bikes and headed off into town for a mooch with a whopping 14 degrees outside temperature. Happy Days!

Salamanca, now there’s a place but thats for the next post. TTFN