And when will we leave our bones in Evora?

By | May 6, 2023

Évora is one of those places you think is “easy” to get to, only to find out how much you did wrong by including it in a day trip. But when days are few, the temptation of a Lisbon-based excursion doesn’t go away until you give in. So Oriente station, the biggest in the country, at the end of February, before the well-known tragic event that psychologically alone would have prevented me from taking a train anywhere in the world, except maybe some Japan (seriously, they asked us to train them, after we open their eyes to digital governance?). My positive experience so far with reliable and quite affordable trains in Portugal was confirmed, with an hour and a half journey without problems. The free wifi came in extremely handy as behind admittedly dirty windows the trip was uneventful.

Evora, train station

The station is very reminiscent of that of Chalkida, except for the walls that are covered with scenes from the country’s history, with the characteristic bluish-white tile that competes in “Portugueseness” only with cod. One of the first things I noticed in Évora, as I took the almost straight road towards the historic center, was the relative lack of color compared to Lisbon or the northern Portuguese cities I have visited. White dominates, perhaps to reflect the light that is so unforgiving, especially in the summer months. The lack of maintenance of many houses is quite evident, giving the historical capital of the Alentejo valley (beyond the Tagus, that is, in Portuguese) a patina of noble fall even more intense than the already quite common decadence that characterizes the extreme western. of the Iberian Peninsula. Some detractors, of course, will say that this is all because the city remains a “last soviet” with a communist mayor, at a time when the PKK, haunted by its political sins, sees its electoral influence dwindle even in the ex reds. castles like the province of Alentez, stained with the blood of the agrarian and labor struggles of the 20th century. However, at first glance, the monuments of modern history that dominate the urban landscape have nothing to do with this tradition. The reason for the imposing sculpture of the fallen of the First World War, but mainly the monument to the local warriors who died in Portugal’s many years of colonial wars, which were also the beginning of the end of the dictatorial regime that dominated the country. for almost half a century, until 1974 and the Carnation Revolution.

“To the children who fell in love with their country – Evora” – Monument to the First World War

A memorial to the city’s fallen in the African colonial wars, erected under Salazar in 1966, the horizontal plaque next to it is a more recent addition to the local veterans’ association.

We cannot have a complete vision of the current municipal authority, however the revolving benches in the Largo da Porta da Moura square (the last to close the door, as an old anecdote says) is an invention that we did not know how much we needed it.

However, it moves…

The city’s second-largest square also has attractions in the more conventional sense, a 16th-century spherical fountain, in the Emmanuel style (a sui generis local amalgamation of Gothic and Renaissance architecture, named after the Portuguese King Manuel I’). house of the poet of the same period García de Resende and the small but charming house of Cordovil, with Arab, Gothic and Renaissance influences. Despite its charms, the square will not hold a hasty one-day visitor for long, as the towers of Évora Cathedral can already be seen behind it, drawing first the eye and then inevitably the passage in the direction of the church, a few minutes. minutes away

Largo da Porta da Moura Fountain

cordovil house

The Cathedral of Évora is literally one of a kind, as it is the largest Romanesque-Gothic church in all of Portugal. Its dimensions are truly imposing, with the façade “smelling” of the Middle Ages. Its interior is an amalgamation of periods, in which the Iberian-style church organ from the 15th century stands out, as well as the Gothic chapel with the tomb of the founder of the church, Archbishop Don Pedro. But truly unforgettable is the view from the towers of the cathedral, which is ascended by a spiral staircase, the narrowest I have ever climbed, with incredibly small steps, a real test for anyone with the slightest suspicion. of claustrophobia. The architecture of the towers and the bell tower itself is very interesting, but the spectacle is stolen by the magnificent view of the city and the surrounding towns of the Alentez region (a name that, despite its phenomenologically Arabic etymology, simply means “beyond the Tagus” in Portuguese).

Evora Cathedral

A few meters further on rises the hallmark of the city, the temple of Diana (the goddess Artemis in the Roman pantheon), which was not Diana’s, but let us never let historical reality spoil a good record. The Emperor Augustus, in whose honor the temple was erected, would not have been happy to learn that his name had fallen into such oblivion, since in this wild western end of Roman territory temples did not exactly spring up like mushrooms, but rather out of nowhere. Therefore, he is the only survivor in the entire country. The Corinthian temple made of local marble was destroyed in the 5th century by German raids, but its remains were incorporated intact into a medieval building, which since the 14th century. until 1836 it housed a butcher shop and then it was restored, quickly becoming the most recognizable place in Évora. Right next to it is the “Garden of Diana”, with the standard statue of some local benefactor, like those found everywhere in our old continent, as well as a fountain with a minimalist aesthetic, for which I happened to come across it. a local guide. group had an interesting story to tell. More specifically, he cited it as the work of a Japanese artist in honor of the Japanese-Portuguese friendship, since the Lusitanian sailors were the first Europeans to arrive in the Land of the Rising Sun in 1543, founding Nagasaki. What stands out, however, is the view from the park, which reaches as far as the distant Roman aqueduct, another vestige of Évora’s imperial charm.

diana temple

The fountain in Jardim da Diana

The central square with its small fountain is quite cute, without anything memorable, while the shops in it give off an annoying touristy vibe and take up more space than they should. The Sandu Andau temple dates from the 16th century and admission is free, that is, if you manage to enter, because its staggered schedule -due to intermission- does not seem to be fulfilled… with reverence.

The central square of Giraldo with the church of Santo Antao

It’s a bit bad, because not ten minutes later you find yourself with the most special monument in Évora, although not exactly unique at a Portuguese or even European level. The motif of the Capela dos Ossos, that is, the Chapel of Bones. And since a chapel without a church is incomplete, don’t forget to visit first the church of San Francisco, which was founded in 1224 by – what a surprise – Franciscan monks from Galicia, in what is now northern Spain, where a local language related to The Portuguese. In addition to a rather interesting interior decoration, the temple has an adjacent museum nucleus, with works of sacred art from the time of the flourishing of the Franciscans, who, like all monastic orders, were dissolved in Portugal in 1834. I consider the collection quite representative of the religious painting and sculptural art of the country, whose naive, sweet and often technically clumsy forms need the pen of a Saramago to bring out their hidden beauty. But for those who have not read the “Journey to Portugal” of the great Nobel Prize winner, who was so ecstatic with the round-faced Virgins and the robust Sebastians of the provincial churches of his country, the comparison with contemporary works by the Italians and the Flemish Renaissance it is inevitable and catalytic.

Entrance to the Church of San Francisco

With this and that, it’s time to enter the chapel itself, which is adorned with a huge inscription in Portuguese addressed to the visitor “We the bones that are here, we are waiting for yours.” This, for those who doubted that the Franciscan monks of the 17th century had a (dark) sense of humor. The idea of ​​a chapel with interior decoration and architectural elements of human bones was based on the need to save the space of the ever-expanding cemeteries around the church of San Francisco. Not knowing that they were the pioneers of recycling and sustainable development (talking about the dead doesn’t make it less sustainable, I don’t want to talk about that), the Franciscans decided to unearth some 5000 bones, men, women and children. , and put them embedded in the walls and columns of the chapel. Apart from the macabre beauty of the place, the small size of most of the skulls is striking, showing the limited physique of the local population, due to chronic malnutrition and multiple diseases from childhood, for those who are lucky enough to overcome it. . The ceiling is decorated with later frescoes (1810) with scenes from the Bible and the Passion of Jesus.

Masonry in the Capela dos ossos

Leaving the chapel, one is confronted by the modern mosaic (made of tiles, of course) by the architect Siza Vieira, which represents a couple playing with their children, an image of life as a counterpoint to the vivid memory of desolation and the human frailty that we have. just left behind. The visit concludes with a tour of the Canha da Silva collection, as the collector couple called… nativity scenes. Yes, you read that right, the lieutenant general in question and his wife had a passion for nativity scenes of all kinds and origins, and apparently new ones are added all the time, like the one below, which looks like a giant Christmas Playmobil:

The visit ends in a room where paintings by students from all over the world representing monuments of Évora are exhibited.

Of course, it goes without saying that after so many strong doses of art and history, the stomach began to scream its rights. An attempt to find a table in one of Portugal’s typical semi-dark, cramped and often semi-subterranean tascas (tascas) initially failed, with the result that I ended up in a place where the excellent red wine (for which the region is world famous) modes). ) and very friendly staff, couldn’t make up for the relative mediocrity of the food. But the palate was not going to be disappointed for long, since, after a long walk back to the other end of the historic center, on a secluded hill, the Pastelaria Conventual pastry shop and more specifically the most famous sweet in the city, the Pão de Rala, I expected. Like most of the country’s sweets, it was born in a monastery as a feast of sugar and eggs, especially the yolks, since the whites were traditionally used to make the priestly vestments more “wrinkle-free.” With a black belt as a pastry chef, I’m not impressed anymore, but here the combination of crunchy surface and moist interior dough, the special “stringy” texture and above all the heady citrus aroma, made me seriously think that I had just tasted one of the best sweets of my life my

Who would have thought that this ordinary-looking concoction would cause such ecstasy to my taste buds…

Although I was annoyed at not being able to see the medieval charm of the city illuminated at night, the walk back to the capital found me so full of flavors and images that it took away any sense of suspense. It was then that I realized that Evora’s biggest secret is the feeling of familiarity it gives you, like a friend from the past, but also a promise of the future at the same time.

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