Weekend Sojourn in Evora

The bad: it was in the high 80’s during the day.

The good: everything else.

What a lovely, peaceful, history- and religious art-packed town, a perfect weekend between hopping Lisbon and as yet unknown Porto. We had chosen to come here hoping for a contrast with the two major cities and it met our needs fully.

The historic center, a town within the town, is surrounded by a wall built in the 1400’s, though some is newer (1700’s?), and an aqueduct appears here and there, still functioning and in places the arches are filled in with houses. Every building is white, mostly with gold trim and dark green doors, but a few buildings are trimmed in grey…presenting a charmingly consistent look even in the commercial areas which have both cave-like mini mercados as well as modern stores and souvenir shops. Our weekend here turned out to be a holiday,  the long weekend celebrations  rather subdued, though Saturday morning on the main square were an exercise competition with perhaps twenty participants and a “motorway” around the central fountain on which little kids rode dune buggie bicycles to cheering grandparents.

We stayed in an old-fashioned B&B, converted from a long held family home of 3 or 4 stories, with a very pretty and practical kitchen outfitted with coffee. (French press), loaves of the delicious local pao (bread) which I am certain was sourdough, made of the local wheat which is white but extremely flavorful and made fantastic toast, milk and fruit, and capacity to cook your own food if desired. A tiny patio that held a two person metal table and chairs was open to the sky…several stories up. Free WiFi, a generous bedroom, a shared (with one other room) bathroom bigger than our dining room…sitting on a small praca (square) next to city hall. The location was perfect, and from our room we looked down on the square and out to the surrounding countryside.

The Cathedral 

Evora has been a cultural center for 2,000 years and we were astounded at the church wealth evidenced by several convent museums. The cathedral, Se de Evora, boasts a relic of the cross, plus many saintly relics housed in tiny glass windows in the chests of the saints’ images. The cathedral was built in the late 12th century and it is marvelous. While we wandered the cloister we could hear liturgical choir music occasionally wafting from the cathedral, which we wrongly assumed was recorded to add to the atmosphere, and were surprised to find a choral group rehearsing. The music, even in the short bursts as the director gave feedback and the singers made notes, was stunning. How lucky we were to find there was a performance that evening by the group Contrapunctus, 12 singers who tour the world and are in residence at Oxford University. For 7€ we so enjoyed the concert, in the cathedral with mind-blowing acoustics and a wildly enthusiastic audience.

For our two days in Evora we wandered the city with stops to see the Chapel of Bones, built in the 1600’s by monks, of monks’ bones from the area, as a reminder to the wealthy and materialistic residents that life is fleeting, several other churches and church museums, parks, and the seriously quaint neighborhoods of impossibly narrow streets and impractical small doors. Honestly I do know how they can move furniture into them! As the town was settled in Roman times there are the remains of a temple, lovely, and where the Roman town center was is now a museum.

Imagine Studying Here

Our last stop was the university, initially built in the 1500’s and reopened forty or so years ago. For 3€ you can wander the original academic building, built around a quad with fountain. They have all the classrooms open for tourists, each room decorated with a blue tile mural depicting the subject originally taught there, as well as an ornate wooden pulpit reached by marble steps from which the Jesuit professors spoke…because words from a pulpit are not to be questioned. On the second floor is the small, ornamented biblioteca and the Azulejos do Centro do Mundo Octogono, a small tall room with tiled murals depicting air, water, earth, and fire. I bet you were unaware that the center of the world is in Evora.