Evora: Portugal’s Ancient Jewel

While tourist herds flock to the Disney-like Sintra, Evora remains to be the real deal and the perfect destination for a memorable daytrip (or two). Once the residence of the Portuguese kings, its UNESCO-listed historic centre has more to offer than just azulejos and whitewashed facades.

The Cathedral is the logical starting point, given its monumentality and the impressive views from its top. A gothic treasure, its interior features a full spectrum of styles including Manueline Renaissance and Baroque, but the most impressive treat is the view from the pinnacle-studded top.

From the Roman era, the Diana Temple is an impressive first-century structure with massive Corinthian columns. As serene as it is, the square where the Temple is located suddenly emanates an eerie feeling when you remember that it came to be surrounded by institutions and offices of the Inquisition.

Other obligatory visits include the University of Evora, the Silver Water Acquiduct and several churches, the most incredible of which is the Capella dos Ossos (Chapel of Bones). As we walked into the Chapel, one could read on the entrance: “We, the bones here, await yours!”

Inside, the shock is inevitable: thousands of bones and countless skulls excavated from a cemetery form the walls and the pillars of the chapel, arranged in perfect order. The Chapel was built by the Franciscan during the heat of the Counter-Reformation, and serves as a memento mori (reminder of death). The poem below –on one of the Chapel’s pillars- says it better:

“Where are you going in such a hurry traveler?
Stop … do not proceed;
You have no greater concern,
Than this one: that on which you focus your sight.
(…) If by chance you glance at this place,
Stop … for the sake of your journey,
The more you pause, the further on your journey you will be.”
Fr. António da Ascenção

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