Évora … a ‘cork-ing’ place to visit with its strange stone giants, mysterious water features and beautifully preserved Roman ruins (albeit found in a car park)

Us Brits love a freebie, especially now that the British Pound has plummeted in value against the Euro since the (shock) result of our EU Referendum earlier this year (2016). To my fellow penny-pinching British travellers who still wish to visit and enjoy the delights mainland Europe has to offer regardless of Brexit, I would suggest a trip to the beautiful Portuguese city of Évora where most of the strangest sights to see and experience there are also free of charge.

Évora's Igreja da Nossa Senhora da Graça (Church of Our Lady of Grace) is now home to the city's Garrison offices with four unusual guards posted by - or rather above - the entrance

Évora’s Igreja da Nossa Senhora da Graça (Church of Our Lady of Grace) is now home to the city’s Garrison offices with four unusual guards posted by – or rather above – the entrance

Known locally as The Children of Grace, it is suggested these two pairs of figures on either side of the entrance are 'Atlanteans' representing the four corners of the world conquered by the Portuguese

Known locally as The Children of Grace, it is suggested these two pairs of figures on either side of the entrance are ‘Atlanteans’ representing the four corners of the world conquered by the Portuguese

Others believe the figures represent the first local victims of the Spanish Inquisition who were stationed here during the fifteenth century

Others believe the figures represent the first local victims of the Spanish Inquisition who were stationed here during the fifteenth century

I would suggest this figure looks rather like the legendary actor Richard Harris

I would suggest this figure looks rather like the legendary actor Richard Harris

Another objet de curiosité in the Portuguese city is referred to as The Kissing Stones – an odd looking water feature in the Jardim de Diana.

The Kissing Stones. The panoramic views of Évora behind this sculpture are stunning. The general view of this sculpture is that no one seems to know what exactly it is supposed to be or represent

The Kissing Stones. The panoramic views of Évora behind this sculpture are stunning. The general view of this sculpture is that no one seems to know what exactly it is supposed to be or represent

(Some video footage of The Kissing Stones below. Just press play)

 

Yet, this is not the only aquatic oddity in Évora.

The less-than-attractive fountain in Praça do Giraldo

The less-than-attractive fountain in Praça do Giraldo

The even stranger looking fountain in Largo da Porta de Moura, made even odder by the fact that there is no water in it

The even stranger looking fountain in Largo da Porta de Moura, made even odder by the fact that there is no water in it

Not so much strange, more a strange choice of canvas for the local Banksys who have recently decorated telephone exchange cabinets in the centre of the city with delightful images associated with Évora.

An example of Évora street art, by Flypontes

An example of Évora street art, by Flypontes

These examples by Joséf, are found next to the Câmara Municipal in Praça de Sertório

These examples by Joséf, are found next to the Câmara Municipal in Praça de Sertório

Along Rua de Oulutro, by E Palma

Along Rua de Oulutro, by E Palma

The remains of a Roman temple must surely be one of the strangest sights to see in a car park. Not to the locals of Évora.

Évora's Roman Temple. The parking restrictions apply to all vehicles, including chariots

Évora’s Roman Temple. The parking restrictions apply to all vehicles, including chariots

The temple is also known as the Temple of Diana possibly because it was discovered in the nineteenth century behind the walls of a slaughter house giving it a tenuous association with the Roman Goddess of the Hunt

The temple is also known as the Temple of Diana possibly because it was discovered in the nineteenth century behind the walls of a slaughter house giving it a tenuous association with the Roman Goddess of the Hunt

There is actually no evidence to suggest which Roman God was once worshipped here. But there is plenty to conclude that the Catholic God was revered here when the building surrounding it was previously used as the local headquarters of the Spanish Inquisition

There is actually no evidence to suggest which Roman God was once worshipped here. But there is plenty to conclude that the Catholic God was revered here when the building surrounding it was previously used as the local headquarters of the Spanish Inquisition

Whatever the Temple was used for in previous centuries, the well preserved remains look particularly spectacular at night

Whatever the Temple was used for in previous centuries, the well preserved remains look particularly spectacular at night

roman-temple-of-evora-aka-temple-of-diana-inside-columns-night

Roman Temple of Evora aka Temple of Diana, column detail in different light, night

roman-temple-of-evora-aka-temple-of-diana-back-night

The columns of the Roman Temple are not the only impressive columns in Évora. A nine kilometre long stone aqueduct built in the sixteenth century runs straight into the city and stands as high as twenty-five metres just beyond the city walls. Within the city, houses and shops nestle neatly between the smaller columns and arches. The Aqueduto da Água de Prata (Aqueduct of Silver Water) was designed by Francisco de Arruda who is better known for building Lisbon’s Tower of Belém.

Évora's impressive Aqueduto da Água de Prata, as seen from the roof of the Sé (cathedral), snaking its way through the city and out into the Alentejo countryside

Évora’s impressive Aqueduto da Água de Prata, as seen from the roof of the Sé (cathedral), snaking its way through the city and out into the Alentejo countryside

aqueduct-across-field

It is possible to walk alongside the aqueduct, particularly once past the Forte de Santo António and the road to Arraiolos. The path however, is overgrown and not at all maintained...

It is possible to walk alongside the aqueduct, particularly once past the Forte de Santo António and the road to Arraiolos. The path however, is overgrown and not at all maintained…

...and ironically there is nowhere along the route to have a drink of water from

…and ironically, there is nowhere along the route to have a drink of water from

aqueduct-detail-of-tower

Venturing out into the Évora country-side particularly during the summer months, whether along this path or not, one may be lucky enough to see another rare and beautiful sight: the bare, golden trunks of freshly-stripped cork trees. Most of the world’s cork is grown and harvested in this part of Portugal, so such a sight is almost unique world-wide to the Alentejo region.

Stripped-trees. The precious bark from the cork trees is carefully peeled away consequently revealing the beautiful, freshly cut coppery-golden trunk underneath

Stripped-trees. The precious bark from the cork trees is carefully peeled away consequently revealing the beautiful, freshly cut coppery-golden trunk underneath

cork-tree-freshly-stripped-branches-close-up

The sun and new cork growth will quickly darken the colour over the coming weeks and months

The sun and new cork growth will quickly darken the colour over the coming weeks and months

Once a cork tree has been harvested, the last digit of the year is painted on to the bark so that the cork harvesters know when it was last harvested. This tree will now be left for NINE years before it can be harvested for cork again. What a lovely excuse to return to Évora in 2025

Once a cork tree has been harvested, the last digit of the year is painted on to the bark so that the cork harvesters know when it was last harvested. This tree will now be left for NINE years before it can be harvested for cork again. What a lovely excuse to return to Évora in 2025

 

Useful information

The Igreja da Nossa Senhora da Graça (Church of Our Lady of Grace) is not usually open to the public as it is no longer a place of religious worship, but the exterior and the Children of Grace sitting on top of it can be viewed at any time. There is a small monastery next door that can also be visited.

The Roman Temple sits proudly in the middle of Largo do Conde de Vila Flor, opposite the Palace of the Dukes of Cadaval. Although there is no fencing, no CCTV cameras, no warrens nor any ‘No Entry’ signs around the Temple, very few people venture up into it and choose to appreciate it respectfully from street level instead. Admittedly, I chose to take full advantage of the lack of security around it and late one evening under the cloak of darkness, I climbed up into the Temple only to realise soon after why there were no barriers around it to stop me from entering it in this way: the Portuguese seem to have a more laissez-faire approach to visitors’ health and safety, leaving it up to the visitor to be solely responsible for themselves. If a visitor takes a risk then it is the visitor alone who is responsible for the consequences. As the surface of the Temple floor was terribly uneven and unlit, I didn’t notice the rubbish that previous, (even) less respectful visitors had left up there and consequently, I stood on a huge piece of broken beer-bottle glass that pierced through the sole of my shoe…and my foot. Luckily, I wasn’t far from my hotel and I always carry a tube of antiseptic cream with me on my travels so my foot was saved. I guess I got my comeuppance from the Roman Gods that evening.

In 1987, the remains of Roman baths were discovered under the foundations of a municipal building in Praça de Sertório. It is believed the nine-metre-diameter pool making up the ruins would have been the largest building in Roman Évora. These ruins can also be seen free of charge just past the reception area of the Câmara Municipal. There is glass surrounding these ruins so there is no mistaking the restricted public access to them.

The remains of the Roman laconicum found inside Évora's Câmara Municipal building

The remains of the Roman laconicum found inside Évora’s Câmara Municipal building

The Aqueduct starts from Rua Nova in the heart of Évora and leads north-west out of the city. Past the ring road beyond the city walls, it is virtually impossible to walk alongside the high arches for at least a kilometre without trespassing on private land. But, it can be seen and traced along the R114-4 before it crosses Rua de Arraiolos and the overgrown public path begins to run beside it. The path is too narrow and wild to ride bicycles along it, so it can only be tackled on foot. Wear trousers as the wild thorn-bushes can be brutal on bare shins. The aqueduct can be followed for around eight kilometres along this path but obviously it is not a circular route, and there is no other way to return to Évora along here except on foot.

The featured video I made of Évora (it’s only four minutes long) can be viewed in full here.

TLT x


The large flat stone in the middle of the cromlech is erroneously believed to be a type of altar used to stage sacrifices. There is no evidence that the cromlech was used for such worship and the flat stone is more likely to have been a menhir that was knocked down by locals in later centuries who carved away at the piece and used the off-cuts for more domestic purposes

 Évora and the Portuguese Stonehenge


Évora‘s igreja-de-sao-joao-azulejos-church-seen-from-side-of-altarmagnificent church of tiles verses its macabre chapel of bones


 

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