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A history of Roman and Moorish occupation has left its stamp on the city of Evora. This can be seen in the tangle of narrow alleys which rise steeply among the whitewashed houses. Most of the monuments, however, date from the fourteenth to the sixteenth centuries. At this time, with royal encouragement, the city was one of the leading centers of Portuguese art and architecture. Used as a slaughterhouse until 1870, the Temple of Diana in the central square is the best-preserved Roman temple in Portugal, its stark remains consisting of a small platform supporting more than a dozen granite columns with a marble entablature. Directly across the street is the former Convento dos Loios, now converted into a luxurious Pousada. Its conversion into a Pousada is in part attributed to Francisco de Arruda, architect of the Tower of Belem in Lisbon. To the left of the Pousada lies the church of the convent, dedicated to Sao Joao Evangelista. This is the private property of the Ducal Cadaval family, who still occupy a wing of the adjacent ancestral palace. Wait outside and you should be admitted to see its azulejos (decorative tiling), trick paintings and ossuary.

The building of the cathedral – the Se de Evora – was started late in the 12th century, about twenty years after the reconquest of Evora from the Moors. Its two huge square towers and roof line contrast sharply with its pointed Gothic arches over its entrance and central window. The interior has a more purely Gothic style, although the choir and high altar were remodeled in the eighteenth century. In the archbishop’s palace is the excellent Museu de Evora, which houses important collections of fifteenth and sixteenth century Flemish and Portuguese paintings assembled from the city’s churches and convents.

Perhaps the most memorable sight in Evora is the Capela dos Ossos (Chapel of Bones; 9am-1pm & 2.30-5.30/6.30pm) in the church of Sao Francisco (not far from the bus station). A gruesome reminder of mortality, the walls and pillars of this chilling chamber are entirely covered with the bones of more than 5000 monks; an inscription over the door reads, “Nos ossos que aqui estamos, Pelos vossos esperamos” (We bones here are waiting for your bones). Another interesting feature of this church is its large entrance, which combines pointed, rounded, and horseshoe arches in a manner typical of Manueline architecture. Appropriately enough, the restored Palacio de Dom Manuel (the king gave his name to the style) lies no more than a minute’s walk away in the Jardim Publico.

Information courtesy of Travelnow and Rough City Guides Lda.