Evora: A Medieval City

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So this city is pretty famous in Portugal because it is one of the country’s most beautifully preserved medieval towns and although touristy, except in February and in cool weather, it is a wonderful place to explore. It is completely enclosed in a stone wall and it feels like you are walking into a different era when you enter. There are so many side streets and squares that despite having a map and guy with a good sense of direction, we found it challenging to find our way around.

We ended up staying in a most beautiful boutique hotel call the The Nobel House, which we got last minute for a bargain price because of the season and it being mid-week. It was an old building that was tucked away on one of the many cobblestone streets off of one of the many squares and has been completely renovated and is modern and new and included a spectacular breakfast in which we ate enough to last us until dinner.

There are many sights, churches and museums to visit in Evora but we chose to tackle just two of them; The Capela dos Ossos, which is a catacomb and the Se, which is the main cathedral.

Capela dos Ossos

As the Capela dos Ossos came highly recommended we went their first. Our ticket price included the ability to get up on the outside terrace for a view of the city, and to check out the display of nativity scenes, as well as to enter the Chapel of the Bones.

Oh my goodness gracious me, I have never in my life seen so many different versions (270 to be exact) of the nativity scene. We actually spent a fair bit of time gazing through the glass displays at all the completely different interpretations of this major Christian celebration. Have a look at all the photos and pick your favourite.  I took 25 photos, I know this might be a lot but I couldn’t help myself.

As we entered the Chapel of the Bones we learned that an inscription over the entrance in Portugese translated to “We bones that are here await yours”.  How comforting and inviting? Yes, you may or may not have guessed right but the whole chapel is made of the bones of people that were dug up from a local graveyard by a someone that thought this was a good idea. The chapel was actually built in the 16th century and was meant to be a place of prayer and meditation about the human condition for the Fransicans.  Gerald did not spend much time in the chapel as I am sure he thought his bones might find a home there too, but mostly he just thought it was a morbid idea and not an inspirational meditative place. I, on the other hand was more fascinated by the whole notion of taking human remains to create a spiritual space and took my time taking pictures.

Ok, so to add to the weirdness of it all were several sonnets written by poets of the time that I just have to share because of their most unusual message. I am thinking that there may have been some translation issues but nonetheless they were thought provoking sonnets.

Look you hasty walker? Stop don’t go further more

NO business is more important than this one at your display (not to Gerald though)

Bear in mind how many were here

Think that you’ll have a similar end

Time to reflect is reason enough

As we all did think it over.

Think that you fortunately

Among all the world affairs

You do think so little about death

Though if you raise your eyes here

Stop.. as in such a business

The sorter you further, the more get ahead

Sonnet written by Antonio da Ascensao, parish priest from 1845 to1848

Catedral /Se’/ The Cathedral

The cathedral, a medieval fortress like structure which took 60 years to build beginning in 1186 was our second sightseeing venture.  Here we found beauty in the chapel as the sun reflected through the stained glass windows. We tried our best with our Iphone cameras to catch the essence of beautiful sunlight filtering through, and as we were the only ones in the chapel, the security guard tried her best to help us by opening up the barrier and allowing us to get closer in to capture the moment.

We were also mesmerized by the enormous pipe organ hanging from the ceiling and circled many times to figure out how they attached such a structure in such a high place.

The cathedral also had three dark circular staircases which allowed you to climb up to the roof tops of the building. Thankfully it was a nice sunny day and as we wandered about we were lucky to get to enjoy a magnificent view of the surrounding area.

There was also a museum part to the cathedral that had many paintings of Jesus on the cross and we wandered through but by then we were done with sightseeing and thankfully the museum was also closing, so off we went to find some refreshments and to decide on a place for dinner.

End of Day 1 and Night 2… Should we stay or not?

One of the advantages of having no specific itinerary is that you can change your mind daily about what you want to do. The morning of the day we were to leave Evora it was wet, cloudy and dreary and so after the “go ahead“ from the hotel that we could have our room one more night, we headed off on a hike to check out the Aqueducto de Agua de Prata or in English… the Aquaduct.

The Aquaduct – Hiking alongside History

The Aquaduct, as far as I am concerned is the coolest engineering feat of the 1500’s.  Yes it was completed in the 1530’s, took 6 years to build and was designed to bring fresh water to the town of Evora.  We got a map from the tourist info centre but as we have read about and found out for ourselves, maps in Portugal are not always accurate and don’t always give you all the information you need.  So we did walk along what we thought was the “whole aquaduct“ for 11 kilometres from the town centre until the end of the path on the map. However, there was no obvious water source at the end of our hike and we were left wondering where the heck they got their water from. Upon our return we looked at a different map and realized the aquaduct continued further for another 9km from the point we turned around, to a lake. I wished we had known that but as it was we had already walked 22 kilometres that day because it was a “there and back” hike.

As we hiked along on that cool cloudy wintery day we found ourselves marveling at the ingenuity of the complex set of structures that included long troughs through deep valleys and most impressively over massive stone support structures reaching 25 metres high, all compliments of King John III who took it upon himself to look after the people of the town and decreed that Evora should have a constant supply of fresh water.

After three nights and two days, we woke up to sun and were more than ready to hop on our bikes again and get on the road.

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