While Evora might not be the first city on your mind when you start planning your trip to Portugal, it should definitely make the list. The incredible history in this city will captivate and amaze you. Learn more about the city, and check out some of our favorite things to do in Evora.
Most tourists head straight for Lisbon, Porto, or the Algarve. However, Evora is an incredible destination with scenic views, medieval history, and spectacular architecture. If you want to avoid the huge crowds in Lisbon, and see some truly unforgettable sights, Evora is the place for you.
Evora was originally the capital of the Lusitanian territory, before the Romans conquered it in 57 BC. Today, you can still see evidence of the Roman occupation throughout the city. In 715, the city was taken over by the Moors, and later reconquered by the Portuguese in 1115.
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What to do in Evora
Evora City Walls
Before you even make it into the city of Evora, you’ll be greeted by the giant stone walls that once stood to protect the Roman-occupied city. The walls are as old as the 3rd century in some places, and as new as the 17th century in others. They have been largely untouched, and it is possible to walk around and see the military defenses that would have kept the people of Evora safe.
Temple of Diana
One of Evora’s most widely known historical sites is the Temple of Diana. It was likely built near the end of the first century, in what was then the main public center of the city. However, it wasn’t associated with Diana until long after the Romans were gone, in the 17th century. At that point, a Portuguese priest began circulating a myth that the temple had once honored Diana. Today, 14 of the original columns survive, along with the granite base and a portion of the top of the temple.
Capela dos Ossos
One of the most unique places to see in Evora is the Capela dos Ossos, or Chapel of Bones. Located in the Church of St. Francis, this Chapel is lined with real human bones. In the 16th century, a Franciscan friar began construction on the Capela dos Ossos. He wanted to encourage visitors to consider the impermanence of life. Roughly 5000 skeletons make up the interior of the Chapel. Inscribed above the entrance of the Chapel is a Latin phrase translating to “We bones that are here, wait for yours.” Similarly, on the ceiling of the Chapel, a line from the book of Ecclesiastes reminds visitors to consider the coming of death: “Better is the day of death than the day of birth.”
Capela dos Ossos is a fascinating look into the morbid side of Portuguese religious history, but it is not for the faint of heart. It is also not recommended for young children, who may be easily scared by the bones in the walls, or the two complete skeletons which sometimes hang from chains at the side of the Chapel.
The Church of St. Francis, which houses the Chapel of Bones, isn’t the only stunning piece of religious architecture in Evora. The Evora Cathedral, also called the Se, is truly spectacular. Though the outside more closely resembles an elaborate fortress, the interior of the Se contains impressive architecture, paintings, and sculptures. The Cathedral Museum houses a series of priceless artifacts, including a sculpture of the Virgin Mary made from ivory and silver.
The University of Evora
The beautiful campus at the University of Evora is another can’t miss spot. The University first opened in the 16th century, making it the second-oldest university in Portugal. The university has a great self guided tour, so you can take your time while you take in the amazing design and history.
Aqueduto da Agua de Prata
The Aqueduto da Agua de Prata is one of the largest monuments in the city. Construction on the Aqueduct began in 1532, to bring water to the people of Evora. One of the most interesting things about the Aqueduct is how the city grew around it. Today, roads pass beneath its arches. Houses and shops are built around and between the Aqueduct, and other elements of the Aqueduct, such as a “water box,” can be found scattered throughout the city.
The Evora Museum houses over 20,000 pieces of art and that all relate to the city’s history. From paintings to furniture to ceramics, the artifacts inside the Evora Museum are stunning pieces of the past. The most well known exhibit here is the set of 19 painted panels. 13 of them depict the life of the Virgin Mary, and the other 6 show the story of the Passion of Christ.
Almendres Cromlech and Anta Grande do Zambujeiro
Though not technically in the city of Evora, these two sites are worth the extra travel. Almendres Cromlech is a neolithic site around 8,000 years old. Here, 95 stones make up two massive circles. Anta Grande do Zambujeiro is newer, but is still around 5,000 years old. A corridor of massive stones lead the way to an impressively constructed funerary chamber. Both of these historic sites are truly fascinating, and will leave you marveling at the skills of neolithic builders.