Casa Morgado Esporão
The house, known in the archeological record as "Antiga Casa dos Senhores do Morgado do Esporão", was acquired in April 2015 to the Fernandes Family; a family with longstading tradition of land farming across extensive properties ("latifundios") in the Alentejo region. Locally, the building was know as the house of the golden boy ("menino de oiro"), the nickname of former owner João Lopes Fernandes (1905-1973). Childless, his parents promised they would make an offering of the child’s weight in gold, were they to be blessed with a heir. The promise was later payed to our Lady of O, a pregnant female figure that remains being worshiped at Evora’s Sé Cathedral.
The origins of the house are much older though. Published records point out to early ownership (15th or 16th Century) of parts of the ground floor of the building by the knight of the Bragança House Álvaro Mendes de Vasconcelos, known as the 4th "Morgado do Esporão". Mendes de Vasconcelos served king D. João III and was the portuguese ambassador in Madrid for 12 years, being regularly seen in the Court of Emperor Carlos V. His second wife, D. Guiomar de Melo, served as chaperone to Empress Isabel of Portugal, wife of Carlos V, and Queen Regent of Spain. As ambassador of King João III, he was also charged with negotiating with Pope Paul III the establishment of the inquisition in Portugal. Mendes de Vasconcelos was the owner of the Esporão property, a military outpost near Reguengos the Monsaraz that protected the border of the country against possible Spanish invasions. The famous tower in the Esporão property was built by order of Alvaro Mendes de Vasconcelos in the end of the 15th Century. Since 1973, the property is owned by a different family and is best known for its production of wine and olive oil.
There are, however, traces of 14th Century architecture in parts of the basement and one of the kitchens. Local sources suggest that the site originally hosted a palace owned by nobles serving the Court of King João I and Queen Filipa de Lencastre (formerly Philipa of Lancaster). Towards the end of the 14th Century, Princess Isabel, daughter of King João and Queen Filipa, is said to have lived there to escape the black plague that invaded Lisbon and killed her mother. Indeed, the street where the building is located is named after Princess Isabel even if it was built on top of a much older Roman road (viae), aligned with the Roman gate of the city, and dating as far back as the 2nd Century before Christ.
When the house was acquired in 2015, it had been vacant for nearly 40 years. Parts of the house were in danger of degradation and collapse. The roof was falling in several sections and some frescoes had ben ruined by the humidity percolating through the roofs and walls. Woordworms were starting to consume the wooden floors, the doors and the windows.
The conservation and restoration project of the house is being undertaken in close dialogue with a team of architects, engineers, the onwner of the building, and the local authorities (Direção Regional de Cultura and Camâra Municipal de Évora). In the words of an architect, the house represents "a folie of times and styles; roman axes, manueline arches, baroque frescoes, nineteenth-century ceilings and naïf landscapes, bonding peacefully together."
Below a text written (in Portuguese) by a notable local historian about the house:
TRAVESSA DAS CASAS PINTADAS N.º 6
Antiga moradia dos senhores do morgado do Esporão, foi alienada no ano de 1584 pelos descendentes de Álvaro Mendes de Vasconcelos e D. Guiomar de Melo, a D. Angela de Noronha, viúva de António Lobo e mãe de Luís Lopes Lobo e D. Maria de Noronha, menina esta a que se destinou como arras, pelo seu matrimónio com o fidalgo António de Mendonça. Importou esta transacção em 4 000 cruzados. Nas casas habitaram o inquisidor Jerónimo Teixeira, o cónego Sande e D. Luísa de Vasconcelos, filha de D. Guiomar, instituidora de um oratório particular dedicado a N.ª S.ª da Piedade, que em 1591 estava decorado com pinturas murais executadas por aquela nobre dama. O imóvel, penhorado em 1609 a António de Mendonça, a instâncias judiciais dos herdeiros de Bartolomeu Sanches, foi à praça no ano seguinte e arrematado por 150 000 rs. pelo cónego Álvaro Ferreira Magro; todavia, em 1618 entrou na posse plena do Desembargador Diogo Ferreira Magro, irmão daquele sacerdote, segundo documento lavrado pelo tabelião Diogo de Oliveira. Em 1654 era patrimonial do dr. Francisco Barreto de Figueiredo, que nele fez testamento no dia 6 de Fevereiro do mesmo ano escriturado pelo tabelião João Casqueiro de Sande. Este fidalgo era tio de Álvaro Ferreira, habitador do velho paço torreado da Rua Nova. Foi, durante muitos anos residência da benemérita D. Leonor de Oliveira Fernandes, que na frontaria do edifício é lembrada por uma lápida de mármore afixada em 3 de Março de 1952. Obras sucessivas de conservação modificaram totalmente o imóvel que conserva, todavia, nos alçados interiores, vestígios de arquitectura quinhentista; antigo é o portal exterior do pátio, de aparelho granítico e de boas proporções.
(Tulio Espanca - Inventário Artistico de Portugal – Concelho de Évora – I volume pag.138 – Lisboa 1966)