The first two picture are from the Pousada dos Lois, the former 15th century convent where we are staying. We are staying in the cells where the monks slept. As you can see from the picture with Don, we have to duck to get into the room. It is sort of like the scene from “Sister Act 2” .
Today we had a wonderful guide, Maria, who took us and showed us the town of Évora. It was a breezy rainy day. Like a lot of places it went from a warm, sunny fall to a cold, rainy fall overnight. Évora has a history dating back more than two millennia. The Romans conquered the town in 57 BC and expanded it into a walled town. Vestiges from this period (city walls, ruins of Roman baths and the remnants of a Corinthian temple) still remain (pictures 4 and 8). The city grew in importance because it lay at the junction of several important routes.
Like the town we visited yesterday, Évora has changed hands several times. During the barbarian invasions, Évora came under the rule of the Visigothic king Leovirgild in 584. The city did not prosper under his rule. In 715, the city was conquered by the Moors. During the Moorish rule (715–1165), the town slowly began to prosper again and developed into an agricultural center with a fortress and a mosque. Évora was wrested from the Moors through a surprise attack by Gerald the Fearless (Geraldo Sem Pavor) in September 1165. The town came under the rule of the Portuguese king Afonso I in 1166. It then flourished as one of the most dynamic cities in the Kingdom of Portugal during the Middle Ages, especially in the 15th century. The city became the seat of an archbishopric in 1540. As a result of all these different occupations, Évora has some very interesting history and things to see.
The Cathedral of Évora (pictures 5 – 7) is one of the oldest and most important monuments in the city of Évora. It was built by the Christians after they conquered the town and dedicated to the Virgin Mary. They tore down the mosque and built the cathedral in the same place to show their dominance. It has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1988. Something unique in this cathedral is a statue of a pregnant Virgin Mary from the 15th century. The guide believes it is the only statue of Mary that depicts her as pregnant. They call her Our Lady of the O.
The Igreja de São Francisco (Church of St. Francis) (pictures 12 and 13) was built in Gothic style between 1475 and the 1550s, replacing an earlier Romanesque church of 1226. The church’s single, groin-vaulted nave gives a wide impression, accentuated by the white mortar on the walls and the columns. This is the largest nave of this kind to be found in Portuguese churches. The church is famous for its Capela dos Ossos (Chapel of Bones) (pictures 14 and 15).
The Chapel of the Bones was built in the 16th century by Franciscan monks who wanted to contemplate the message of life being transitory. In those times, only the rich could afford to be buried on sacred ground. The poor were buried outside the city. As the city expanded, these graves were dug up. The Franciscan’s rescued the bones, provided sacred ground for them and created a chapel where they could contemplate the importance of the soul.
As our guide was describing this, we pictured a few bones hanging on a wall. Boy were we surprised. The chapel is formed by three spans 62 feet long and 36 feet wide. Its walls and eight pillars are decorated in carefully arranged bones and skulls held together by cement. The number of skeletons was calculated to be about 5000. It was absolutely amazing and a little surreal.
On the food front: After our tour was finished we had a very good lunch. Don and Bill ate sardines (biggest sardines we had ever had) which is a very traditional lunch in Portugal. Bill is doing well at picking the restaurants where we eat. Before the trip, Bill and Don agreed that Don would scope out what we would see during our free time and Bill would scope out what restaurants to go to when we were not fed by Odyssey. Don spent hours doing research and came with a stack of papers. Bill asks our tour guide every day where the best place to eat is. Oh well, whatever works.
Leslie snuck away during the tour to a baker and tried the pastry that Evora is known for – queijada which is a sweet cheese pastry (very good). She also got a pasties de belem that was right out of the oven which was delicious. Tonight we had goat cheese in a puff pastry, pork cheeks (the most tender part of the pig) and perch (Don had this) and there was a dessert buffet. They are killing us with food!!