Evora has an ancient heritage dating back to Neolithic times but it was the Romans who transformed it into a bustling commercial centre and an Imperial town.
Their mark is still felt. Called Ebora Liberalitus Julia it still contains a temple of worship to the cult of Julius Caesar and an ashlar-built aqueduct.
Ducking into the city walls and winding our way through the narrow old Medieval quarter we enjoyed the washing lines strung outside upper windows packed with oversized pants and pinnies!
The historic centre of ancient and medieval architecture is now classified as a UNESCO world heritage site. We began our explorations at the Plaza De Giraldo, a grandly arcaded central square of boutique and coffee shops centred around a fountain and the 16th century church of Saint Antony.
It was a cool and cloudy day which we appreciated after the blistering heat of 35 degrees at the coast on the Algarve.
Climbing up the cobbled streets to the massive Cathedral, built over 200 years from the 13th – 15th centuries we passed shops selling ceramic tiles. Particularly appealing were those of fish and seafood. Their prices were eyewatering. Here, clearly is a tourist trap!
Up on the Cathedral rooftops we had the treat of panoramic views across the rural countryside. The town was briefly in the hands of the Moorish Al-Andalus empire but claimed by the ‘reconquista’ in 1165.
During the 1300s the ruling monarchs established their court here, to the detriment of Lisbon and Coimbra.
The rooftops were bustling with international tourists which we found interesting, and later discovered were on a day trip from Lisbon in coaches. Thankfully, we had realised the bells were about to chime, so we were prepared for the earsplitting gongs. Not so the tour group, several of whom lost a few years of their lives at 11 o clock in Evora.
Seeking some peace, we headed down to the ornate cloisters, created in elaborate stonework and bounding a simple green garden of lawns.
From here it was a short walk uphill to the standing remains of a Roman temple, columned on two sides and set above road height.
Archaeologists disagree over its provenance. Initially thought to be dedicated to Diana, Goddess of the Hunt it is now thought to have been dedicated to the cult of the first emperor, Julius Caesar.
Whatever, it was stunning to stand in the shadow of the elegantly fluted columns and see the scale of the power of a message, still resonant today. Everyone who passed by stopped to gaze and take photographs. Hail, Caesar!
The massive and towering aqueduct that stands today was built during the 1500s but probably on the site of the old Roman feat of engineering.
The Alentejo region has very hot summers and mild dry winters, with minimal rain throughout the year. The scant supply of ground water extracted via wells limited Evora’s early growth, and there was the constant fear of drought.
This changed under the reign of King John III who decreed that Evora should have a constant supply of fresh water, which was only possible by the construction of the aqueduct to connect with the Ribeira do Divor, some 9kms away.
The aqueduct was started in 1531 and took 6 years to construct, with the majority of the time spent building the final few kilometers into the town centre.
Today, tiny houses and shops are built into its arches, barely one up one down. It was bijou living on an extreme scale. Presumably the homes of the impoverished are now Air bnb rentals.
Inside the building of the town council we meandered past a queue of local taxpayers (or petitioners?) to gaze upon a Roman circular bath or Laconicum.
Discovered in the 1980s, when a floor needed replacing, the perfect stone circle is intact and spacious enough to accommodate a dozen steaming water worshippers.
Up above a Regency-style decoration, numbered panels and seemingly suspended doorway tell the story of countless later municipal gatherings unaware of what lay below them. It was terrific!
The Capela dos Ossos is a chilling sight of the remains of more than 5,000 people racked and stacked by Franciscan monks when the town’s graveyards were overflowing during the 1700s. We left the Japanese tourists to it, having had our fill at the Sedlec Ossuary in the Czech Republic some years before.