Évora was the first UNESCO-listed place that we visited in Portugal. It’s a walled city known for its huge cathedral, the São Francisco church, a small Roman temple, and an impressively long Roman aqueduct that’s still used to bring water to the city. We visited all those. Évora’s probably known for other stuff as well, but we didn’t visit those. Évora gets high praise from internet users.
Like many historic cities in Europe I expected Évora to be crawling with tourists. It wasn’t.
Évora’s iconic building is a Roman temple with a few columns left.
Unlike the cathedral in Faro, Évora’s cathedral is more impressive for its architecture than for its altars. It’s certainly worth going up to the roof and looking around.
The Gothic vaults in the cloister:
For me the most impressive structure in Évora was the Roman aqueduct, still delivering water to the city after 2000 years.
Within the city, buildings were built right into the arches of the aqueduct.
Everyone who goes to Évora wants to the visit La Capela dos Ossos (Chapel of Bones) attached to the São Francisco church. The chapel is built with the bones of 5000 friars, the idea being to remind people how transitory life on earth is.
It may feel a bit macabre to pay 5 Euro just to see so many human bones, but the entrance fee also gets you into an exhibition of an incredible collection of 2600 nativity scenes, collected all over the world by a family in Évora. So with the dead friars you have a celebration of life.
Additionally there’s a museum about the convent that used to exist on the same site, and in the entrance to this whole complex, more of Portugal’s ever present azulejos:
The altars in the São Frasncisco church make up for the ones in the cathedral.
And detail of more inlaid marble work:
“Where does all that marble come from?” you’re wondering.
Well, between Évora and Elvas we visited Estremoz, Borba, and Vila Viçosa, famous as Portugal’s marble towns. Portugal is the second largest exporter of marble in the world (after Italy) and the vast majority of Portugal’s marble comes from this area. We saw our first quarry just across the street from the supermarket in Estremoz.
Between Borba and Vila Viçosa the small road open for bicycles went right through a large quarry area.
Vila Viçosa was a rich town for its size because it was the winter home of the Duke of Bragança. Here’s the duke’s palace:
Marble is so common in this area that they even use it for the curbs as you can see in this photo of a 16th century church:
Some more nice rural Portugal riding brought us to Elvas, another UNESCO-listed city.
Elvas is a heavily fortified garrison town close to the Spanish-Portuguese border in an area that the Spanish and Portuguese fought over for centuries. We stayed at our first campground of the trip in Elvas and coincidentally again ran into Ryan from Calgary, the one whose photo I complained about not having in my last post.
The campground is next to the Sanctuary of St. Jesus Piedade with an interesting collection of ex-votos (expressions of thanks after asking for and receiving a miracle), including a model of the church made from 6000 matchsticks. Here’s the real deal:
In the morning before parting ways we explored the 17th century aqueduct with Ryan.
I don’t want to dis (too much) this engineering marvel, but it was built 1600 years after the aqueduct in Évora and unlike that one is no longer in use. What did the Romans ever do for us??!!
It’s hard to appreciate Elvas’ fortifications except from maps and aerial photos, but Ferda and I locked up our bicycles and enjoyed wandering within the walled city for a couple hours.
From Elvas’ walls it’s easy to see the Spanish city of Badajoz not far away. Time to say goodbye (temporarily) to Portugal for a short route through Extremadura.
Continuing on the water delivery infrastructure theme, I’ll end with a couple photos of the many fountains we’ve seen and used in Portugal.