Are you looking to visit one of Portugal’s most beautifully preserved medieval towns? Évora is an UNESCO World Heritage site due to its well-preserved old town center, still partially enclosed by medieval walls, and a large number of monuments dating from various historical periods, including a Roman Temple, an elaborate medieval cathedral and cloisters, a picturesque town square; and endless narrow winding alleyways to other architectural works. Only a 90-minute car or train ride away from Lisbon, Évora could easily be done as a day trip, but think it is better explored with an overnight stay, especially because they have some great restaurants.
Évora, the capital of the Alentejo region, has been shaped by more than twenty centuries of history, going as far back as Celtic times. It fell under Roman domination in 57 BC and expanded into a walled town. The city walls and ruins of Roman baths still remain. During the Visigoth period in 584, the town was elevated to a cathedral city. Under Moorish rule (715 to 1165), further improvements were made to include a fortified gate and the Cathedral (completed in the 13th century). But it was in the 15th century, when the Portuguese kings began living in Évora on an increasingly regular basis, and that is when Évora’s growth began. At that time, convents and royal palaces sprung up everywhere: St Claire Convent, the royal church and convent of São Francisco, and Os Lóios Convent with the São João Evangelista Church.
Around the walled center runs a ring road, built in the 20th century, from which you can enter the town on one of the several spoke roads. What you will immediately notice is the stunning architecture of the low whitewash houses, decorated with painted tiles, mustard-yellow trim, wrought-iron balconies and red tile rooftops. All of these features make Évora the best example of a historic city, especially as it remained undamaged by the great earthquake of 1755 which destroyed many towns in Portugal, including Lisbon.
What to see
Aqueduct of Silver Water (Adqueduto da Agua de Prata) – just outside the city walls is the aqueduct, was completed in 1530 to bring water to the city. It was designed by Francisco de Arruda, famously known as the designer of the Tower Belem in Lisbon.
The Aqueduct is 9 km long, and originally continued all the way to the Praça do Giraldo.
Chapel of Bones (Capela dos Ossos) – small chapel connected to the Church of Sao Francisco is lined inside with human bones (approximately 5,000) dating back to the 17th century.
The inscription above the chapel entrance translates as, “We bones who lie here await yours.” That is as far as I wanted to get!
Church of Our Lady of Grace (Igreja da Nossa Senhora da Graca) – is tucked away on Rua da Republic and I loved the statues at the top.
Diana Temple (Templo de Diana) – the roman temple dates back to the 1st century, with references in 2nd and 3rd centuries, was dedicated to the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus. Today what remains still intact are 14 columns.
Fountain of Portas de Moura – a Renaissance fountain was built in 1556, and the design of the globe surrounded by water is meant to reference the Age of Discovery.
Palace of the Counts of Basto – once a primitive Moorish castle and later residence of the kings. Its outer architecture displays features of Gothic, Manueline, Mudéjar and Renaissance styles. However, most of the structure needed to be rebuilt in the 1950s.
Praca do Giraldo – the main and busiest square was named after the 12th century hero of the Reconquista Gerald the Fearless, who defeated the Moors and expelled them after 450 years of rule in the city.
The public square was where the public executions took place, mainly during the period of the Inquisition.
The 16th century Church of Santo Antao (St Andrew) sits closely to the fountain.
São João Evangelista Church – where the entire walls are decorated with the blue and white Portuguese tiles (azulejos) from early 18th century.
The hand painted tiles are a mix of leaves and flowers as well as biblical scenes.
Se Cathedral – is an example of Gothic architecture built in 1186, it is known for having asymmetrical towers. It took a half a century to be built, and was later added to throughout the Middle Ages.
As such, it dominates the city, and is almost always visual when looking at the skyline of this city.
Where to eat
Enoteca Cartuxa (Rua Vasco da Gama) *can also serve as a wine tour
Origens (Rua de Burgos)
Tasquinha d’Oliveira (Rua Cándido dos Reis)
Dom Joaquim (Rua dos Penedos)
Reservations are required to these fine dining/chef-owned restaurants.
Where to stay
We stayed at Villa Extramuros, which is situated in the countryside on the outskirts of a small village called Arraiolos, only 15 minutes north of Évora. If you are a lover of modern architectural design and/or want a quiet escape in the countryside where you will be treated to a delicious breakfast, then you have to check out this property.
So, have I inspired you to make Évora one of your must-see destinations when in Portugal?
It truly has enough charm and things to see to capture your interest for a 1-2 night stay.
My advice, put away the map and simply wander and discover every hidden corner of it. Nothing is better than getting lost inside the walls of this old city.