The town of Évora was originally settled by the Romans and there is still the remains
of the old Roman temple in the center of town and an aqueduct in from the north. The
aqueduct has been used as a supporting wall by several of the houses in town.
At the Portuguese Fin de Año party we were invited to stop and visit the walled town
of Év6ra by GoldWing club members Jose and Maria João Nunes. We agreed and are very
glad we did.
Jose and Maria João both had to work so we toured the town on our own. Like all
the walled towns we have visited, it is small inside the walls (and that is where
the most interesting stuff is) so we walked. Outside the walls are where all the
modern (post 1600's) houses and stores are built. Inside the walls the town is a
UNESCO Heritage town with narrow cobblestone streets running at odd angles and plazas
dropped here and there.
Along a street the buildings don't always line up with each other making the width
of the street change as it goes along. When these buildings were built (from Roman
days to the 12th C.) the owners built where and how they pleased.
We also visited the Cathedral (built in the 1100's) and another church (Igreja de
Misericórdia) that had the walls tiled with the famous Azulejo (blue painted) tiles
that Portugal is famous for. These tiles can be an individual or part of a huge
mural as in this church.
This church was more interesting than the cathedral.
The next day we went to the ossuary at the St. Francis church. An ossuary is a storehouse
of bones, human bones, stacked neatly in rows and stuck to the doorways and roof
supports. In the early days of the town the cemeteries were taking up too much room
so the city decided to dig them up and pile the bones in an ossuary. Then they could
build more buildings inside the walls.
This ossuary has about 40,000 bones in it and above the entrance doorway is carved
(in Portuguese) "We, bones that are here, wait for yours." It was not as creepy
as we thought it might be. We were the only visitors at the time and the custodian
played, in English, a dialogue describing the history and interesting points of the
After this we went to the large market held every second Tuesday. We thought when
we had read about it in the guidebook that it would be a craft/farmer's market. We
were sure wrong. It was a huge market of imported cheap Chinese junk. There was
a lot of clothing with some merchants specializing in a single item. I didn't know
there were that many socks in the world! Others had tools, leather goods, carpets,
coats, fake flowers, pots & pans, plastic ware, etc. And we actually bought something,
a small hammer to pound tent stakes that has pliers, knife blade and screwdrivers
built into the handle, all for 5 Euros (about $6.25 US).
Jose and Maria João showed us several good places to eat, too many good places, and
we ate even more, which we should not have done after the weekends we've just had,
but it was too good to refuse.
Then we had to leave, we were out of clean clothes and had taken all the medication
we had brought with us. After all we had only gone for a 3 day weekend and now it
was the sixth day. They said that we had to stop and visit the town of Monsaraz
on the way home. We are really glad they told us about it. It only rated a small
paragraph in our guidebook to Portugal but is worth much more.
Monsaraz is also a walled town but this one sits on a hilltop and has never had the
buildup around it. It is still as the inhabitants built it so many hundreds of years
ago. The buildings and streets are all made of a local stone that is a lot like
slate. It had layers that can be split and shaped into posts to make door and window
frames and into flat things like shelves, steps and benches. The stone is turned
on edge to make the cobbles for the roads and laid flat to create walls, which if
they're for a house are then plastered and painted white. The town lives off of
tourists and has many artisans doing weaving and pottery work and the prices were
very low. We bought two bowls to bring home.
The entire town is about 400 yards (meters) long by about 200 wide. It is entirely
encircled by a wall with a gateway on the left in the picture and a castle on the
right. The castle is in ruins and has the main room converted into a bullring with
stone seating at each end. It is very easy to imagine life within those walls as
it must have been a thousand years ago. I'm sure the local ruler thought that he
was king of all he could see. And from this hilltop one can see a long ways.
From here we went straight home through sunshine and rolling hills covered with cork
Below you will find the most interesting part of our visit to Monsaraz, the way they
had made their Christmas Nativity display.
They had made life size figures out of cloth and what looked like paper-mache, but
it had to have been waterproof, and then had painted them in tones of brown and white. Then
they had placed them through the town as if they were on their way to visit the Christ
Child, with others as if they lived there.
They started with Roman guards at the Gate.
Then a shepherd with his sheep at the water trough just inside the gate.
A man with his donkey loaded with firewood.
The plaza in front of the church with a beggar and a family.
Down a side street women bring water from a fountain by the wall.
Farther along are three kings on camels bearing gifts.
Then one rounds a corner and in a stock pen next to the castle is the object of all
the attention, with a star on high (but not lit because it was bright day).
The entire display was very well done with a new discovery around each corner or
bend in the street as you walked through the town, until you came upon the final
scene as a whole around the last corner. Although simple, it was the best designed
life-size display I've ever seen. And putting it into a town that still looked like
it could have been the Bethlehem of 2000 years ago made it seem almost real.