Évora: The museum-city, whose roots go back to Roman times, reached its golden age in the 15th century, when it became the residence of the Portuguese kings. Its unique quality stems from the whitewashed houses decorated with azulejos and wrought-iron balconies dating from the 16th to the 18th century. Its monuments had a profound influence on Portuguese architecture in Brazil.
Évora is the finest example of a city of the golden age of Portugal after the destruction of Lisbon by the earthquake of 1755. The cityscape of Évora demonstrates the influence exerted by Portuguese architecture in Brazil, in sites such as Salvador de Bahia.
It is the capital of Alentejo Province and one of the tourist attractions of the south. In spite of sharp population growth which has led to the construction of new quarters to the west, south and east, this museum city has retained all of its traditional charm inside the Vauban-style wall built in the 17th century according to the plans of Nicolas de Langres, a French engineer. The rural landscape to the north has remained virtually unchanged.
The Roman Temple
The Roman temple, also known in Portugal as the Templo de Diana, dates back to the second century AD when Évora was an important Roman military outpost in Portugal, following its heyday as the headquarters of the Roman military commander Quintus Sertorius during the first century BC.
The Temple of Diana is located right in Évora’s central square at the highest point of the city and is surrounded by a number of other ecclesiastical buildings that were associated with the Inquisition in Portugal during the middle ages.
The public library and Évora museum are also located here along with the medieval façade of São João Evangelista and a garden affording lovely views to the Roman aqueduct below and the rolling green hills of the Alentejo countryside beyond.
The University of Évora, the second oldest in Portugal, was founded in the 16th century (1559) by Cardinal Infante Dom Henrique (the future king of Portugal), and by the Pope Paul IV, and it was delivered to the Society of Jesus.
Between 1559 and 1759, the University trained the missionaries elite that evangelized remote lands and people of the Portuguese Overseas Empire (16th-18th centuries).
The vocation of teaching remained even after 1759, when the Marquis of Pombal expelled the Jesuits and closed the university alongside its theological studies.
Today the university is home to about nine thousand students in several branches of science, arts and humanities.
The Bones Chapel is one of Portugal's best known monuments. It is a small chapel located within the Church of St. Francis. The Chapel gets its name because the interior walls are covered with human skulls and bones. To remind you of the meaning of life, there you can read :
"Where are you going in such a hurry traveler? Stop … do not proceed; You have no greater concern,Than this one: that on which you focus your sight. /Recall how many have passed from this world, Reflect on your similar end, There is good reason to reflect If only all did the same. / Ponder, you so influenced by fate, Among the many concerns of the world, So little do you reflect on death; / If by chance you glance at this place, Stop … for the sake of your journey, The more you pause, the further on your journey you will be."
The Almendres Cromlech is a megalithic complex located nearby Évora. There are several such complexes elsewhere in Portugal and Spain, but this is by far the largest in Iberia and one of largest in Europe.
The site consists of a number of megalithic structures – cromlechs and menhir stones – and dates back to between 3000 BC and 4000 BC.
It is thought that the monument had a religious/ceremonial purpose, or functioned as a primitive astronomical observatory
Although Évora is best known by its monuments and laid back atmosphere, nature around it is no less appealing. You can simply drive through or book one of the several nature-guided tours to discover the wonders of the region.
Towards the west and south parts of the city you can find important bird areas bursting with steppe birds, raptors, and water birds (e.g., waterfowl, shore birds, etc) that gather in the reservoirs around the city. You can also wander through the famous montados (also known as "dehesas"), a parkland that, in the neighbourhood of Évora, includes a mixture of two species of evergreen oaks: the cork oak and the stone oak. The montados is one of the less fragmented ecosystems in Europe, with a rich mediterranean flora and fauna and several rare and endangered species, such as the Iberian Lynx and the black stork.
Alentejo, the “new Tuscany” as it has been called in one of Condé Nast Traveller’s latest editions, is surely one of Europe’s best kept secrets. The Alentejo cuisine, ranks among the best in Europe! It is known for its honest cooking, fresh products, traditional recipes and influences of the old past.
Culturally used to socialising in restaurants, the Portuguese know their gastronomy. Grilled sardines, stewed lamb and roasted chicken, are local favourites, but don’t forget to try something special as shark in coriander sauce or squid with ink.
To learn more about the famous wines from the Alentejo, there are several vineyards to visit. In Évora you can indulge in free wine tasting while planning a visit to one of the several vineyards of the region.