“Roman: Liberalitas Julia”
Our second objective for this weekend, the city of Evora after visiting the day before beautiful Elvas, the easternmost city along the border with Spain, and Badajoz right across the border, the first city in Spain. Now if we enjoyed a lot the experience and what we’ve visited the day before; here in Evora came as twice the surprise. Not only that both cities are off the beaten path of the minds of most of the tourists for what you get to enjoy these places to yourself; you get to see their nice people and traditions, inexpensive great food, history and art literally on every corner. Both cities are near each other, however very difference and oppose one to another. Elvas, a garrison frontier city with its immaculate network of fortresses, walls and bastions; Evora, home to some of the finest Roman monuments in the whole of Portugal, a monumental “museum city”. The only “minor” downside in our experience? well, quite an ugly grey and rainy day.
Its network of narrow streets, squares, palaces and buildings of many epoch and countless styles and the great level of preservation of the urban fabric all were a good reason why the UNESCO listed it as a World Heritage site. Moreover, since its foundation as a thriving city, to the many wars and posterior decline to then thrive again and so on, it is only recent its “rediscovery”, a city transforming and reinventing itself as an ever stronger tourist pole adding to the already long list of amazing cities to visit in Portugal.
Visiting every place and sight is straightforward because of a very compact urban core and overall reduced size. A day is well more than enough, giving you plenty of time to enjoy some coffee or beer time at any of the many bars and terraces, perhaps that delicious pastry and a great lunch all without any rush. Our time here was actually from the morning until late afternoon when we started to make our way back to Lisbon’s airport for our late departure back to London.
Again, as mentioned in the sister guide for Elvas, coming here requires a bit more time for planification since the nearest airport is Lisbon, 140 kilometres west. The city is right along the major rail and road route that links Lisbon to Madrid hence meaning a fast connection via bus and train from downtown Lisbon, both options at less than 2 hours journey time.
When thinking about where to go for food and what to order, that’s the easiest task everywhere you go in Portugal. It is generally a great value for money, and in smaller cities as Elvas rate to find tourist traps or over the moon prices. The national dish is cod, and any other type of fish; so are the great grilled meats and octopus with crashed grilled potatoes, that’s another one of their cuisine specialities. The national pastry by excellence is the pasteis de nata, which are an egg tart pastry that originated in Lisbon’s neighbourhood of Belem, hence why you might find them named as pasteis de Belem. If you’ve ever been to a former Portuguese colony then you already know them, they are everywhere across the former empire.
For more information about Evora check Wikipedia site. Portugal’s currency is the Euro (EUR). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Evora:
- City walls Surrounding the north, west and south perimeter of the historic town almost intact. However these on the eastern side have mostly disappeared. If you start your tour at the north you will see the most beautiful and intact section.
- Prata Aqueduct Designed by military architect Francisco de Arruda who previously designed the Belem Tower, was built during the reign of by King João III between 1531 and 1537. It’s 9 kilometres long and terminates well inside the city centre where its arches have been occupied by houses in between.
- Jardim de Diana Right at the heart of the old town, a nice landscaped gardens where majority of the city’s sights are either around or the nearby streets.
- Palace of the Dukes of Cadaval At the eastern side of the Jardim de Diana, this 17th century palace was built from the remains of an old castle that burnt down in 1384. Its architecture blends Manueline-Moorish architectural elements, including the Tower of the Five Shields.
- Largo Conde Vila Flor Just along the southern side of the Jardim de Diana, is the central square where the city’s most celebrated sight stands in the middle.
-Roman Temple Built in the 1st century dedicated to Emperor Augustus, yet incorrectly referred to as the Temple of Diana, is one of the major landmarks in the city, with its fine Corinthian columns and capitals.
-Library of Evora Established in 1805 in a building that was erected in 1656 on the remaining grounds of the former Castle of Evora. It’s at the eastern side of the square.
-Inquisition Palace Opposite the Library, was built in 1540 and in use by the Holy Court until 1821. Nowadays is the Department of Education of the university.
-Evora Museum Closing the square at the southern side, it was the Archbishop’s Palace until the museum was created in 1915 depicting the history of the city with archaeological finds of every era, art pieces and paintings.
-Cathedral The “Se” as it’s commonly named in Portuguese, was built between 1186 and 1250 in a transition from Romanesque to Gothic. The main facade is adorned with statues of the Apostles sculpted in the 14th century and a succession of styles such as a transept chapel in Manueline, the main chapel in Baroque or the organ and choir stalls in renaissance.
-Palace of the Counts of Basto East from the Evora Museum and Cathedral, the primitive Moorish castle and later residence of the Afonsine dynastic kings. Its outer architecture features a blend between Gothic, Manueline, Moorish and Renaissance styles.
- Largo das Portas de Moura Behind the Cathedral continuing south, is one of the most picturesque for the combination of buildings in many styles and the view of the Cathedral in the background.
-Renaissance Fountain Built in 1556, its design of a globe surrounded by water is a reference to the Age of the Discoveries.
- Church of Nossa Senhora da Graça Starting to make the way from Praça do Geraldo towards the west to the other half of the historic core, you reach this Renaissance monastery from 1511 famous for the Atlantean figures whom the people of Evora have called the “Boys of Grace” for centuries.
- Saint Francis Church 2 streets west from Nossa Senhora da Graça, was built between 1475 and 1550 in mixed Gothic-Manueline styles, having the wide nave a masterpiece of late Gothic architecture. It is most famous for the Chapel of Bones (Capela dos Ossos), totally covered with human bones.
- Public Gardens All along behind the Saint Francis Church are the biggest within the city’s core, containing part of the walls that start from here and continue west and north encircling half of the city.
-Don Manuel Palace One of the most luxurious ever built in Evora, it is in reality all that is left form the once glorious Royal Palace built by King Manuel I in Gothic-Renaissance style. According to some chroniclers, it was in this palace, in 1497, that Vasco da Gama was given the command of the squadron he would lead on his maritime journey to India.
-Fake Ruins Against what it might look, these are a recreation of a ruined palace with materials of real ruins constructions taken from the city.
- Praça do Geraldo Walking north from the Public Gardens along any of the streets you reach the second major square within the historic city’s core, surrounded by must visit sights along its rectangular shape. The 6 streets heading west from the square are some of the nicest to walk and enjoy old architecture, while the only street heading east leads direct to the Largo Conde Vila Flor.
-Banco do Portugal At the southern end of the square, a beautiful corner building.
-Henriquina Fountain Dating from 1570, its eight jets symbolize the eight streets that lead to the square.
-Igreja de Santo Antão At the northern side, this church was built in the 16th century in the last years of the Renaissance era.
- Rua João de Deus Starting at Largo de Porta de Moura and heading north, it is the main street cutting through the historic centre.
- Praça de Sertorio Parallel to Rua João de Deus, this small square is one of the most charming.
-Igreja de São Salvador do Mundo Marks the northern side.
-City Hall Along the eastern side of the square is one of the most elegant and finest buildings in Evora. Behind you will reach once again the Jardim de Diana.
- Outside of the city There are many villages and small cities, castles, palaces, charterhouses and monasteries across the region, however visiting places other than the major cities such as Evora will only make sense if you are on a road trip with plenty of time to spend. In any case, should you have some little time to spare, the following is pretty much unique:
-Cromlech of the Almendres Megalithic Complex Located near the small village of Nossa Senhora de Guadalupe, is the largest existing group of structured menhirs in the Iberian Peninsula, and one of the largest in Europe
The nearest major airport to Evora is all the way 140 kilometres west in Lisbon. Either if you fly to Lisbon as your entry point, or come from other cities within Portugal, then chances you will need to pass through Lisbon before continuing east are almost guaranteed. This is the main motorway from Lisbon to Madrid, and so the railway line linking both, and in between, Evora, and as last 8o kilometres farther east, Elvas right before the Spanish border. Coming from the other side in Spain, requires the same but with longer journey times due to the distances. First you will need to fly to Madrid or Seville and take a bur or train from there. The Spanish border town is Badajoz, 100 kilometres east from Evora itself. The Guadiana River is the natural country border.
Coming by long distance buses from elsewhere in Portugal can be much faster than by train, as there is not need to get into Lisbon first and change for the east-west corridor. Then the fastest and most comfortable option is without doubt renting a car. From Lisbon is around hour and a half drive, but bear in mind the countless tolls in the motorway, yet don’t worry too much because when renting a car it costs just only 2.5 Euros per day to use any motorway as long as you want in the day. In the other hand, if a private car, this will be a much more expensive business.
Once in Evora, the city size is really small and compact. Walking distances are very short, and the streets are majority pedestrian and too narrow to even allow cars to pass through.
Although a small city, there is a great choice of hotels of any kind from the small family run to the large world-wide chains and spa. Also because this is not such a touristy city coupled with our visit still during the low season at the end of March, the offers around were great!. A good and reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers.
We stayed at the Evora Hotel, in Av. Tulio Espanca Apart. 93, west outside of the city centre, this 4* property was great in every sense, from their very friendly and professional staff on each department, to their facilities like the big outdoor and indoor heated pool and spa, large tasty breakfast, free parking on-site, comfortable and very quiet rooms, very well maintained and clean everywhere. A great value for money totally recommended to anyone.
As last, if you are considering in making Lisbon your base and come to Evora for a day trip, here you have a very complete guide for Lisbon with some of the hotels we’ve been in our past visits.