Evora, in the Alto Alentejo, is one of Portugal's finest cities with a relaxed atmosphere in spite of the large number of tourists in the summer, and an unpretentious setting for some of the country's most imposing monuments. These have been restored and are protected by UNESCO. The city hosts a market of local produce on the second Tuesday of the month and it still has an important role to play in local agriculture, so it is firmly grounded in reality and not just a showcase of Moorish monuments. There is a festival during the last ten days of June, the Feira de São João, where artisans' skills, gastronomy and music are all celebrated.
The Romans came in 59BC and turned the Celtic settlement of Ebora into a military station, which grew into an important municipality within Roman Iberia. The town really flourished, however, under the Moors as a trading post and then again in the two hundred years of the House of Avis rule from the 14th to 16th centuries, during which time it became an archbishopric and a university town. After the royal family petered out in 1580 the town started to degenerate. The Marquês de Pombal closed the university in 1759 and the French plundered it in 1808. Thankfully this decline meant that the town was not redeveloped as other more important towns were, because rulers chose to live nearer to Lisbon, and so the beautiful town centre is pretty much preserved as it was in the 16th century. In fact, the population is half as small as it was when the House of Avis ruled the Alentejo.
At the centre of Évora is the Templo Romano dating from the 2nd century. It is in remarkably good nick considering that it has been used as an execution ground and a slaughterhouse in its time, and it is one of Portugal's best examples of Roman temples. The 15th -century Convento dos Lóios opposite has been transformed into a pousada, and the cloisters now serve as the dining terrace.
The Sé, Évora's cathedral, is just around the corner and is a mixture of military Romanesque and harmonious Gothic architecture. Some of the treasures in the museum include a carved Madonna whose middle opens up to discover scenes from the Bible.
Accommodation in Évora can be pricey and is more comparable to Lisbon than to the rest of the Altentejo. Book a day or so in advance to secure a hotel room at most times or the year or contact the turismo to organise a room in a private residence. The Pousada dos Lóios is obviously the grandest place to stay, but reasonably priced and attractive hotels are there for the taking as well.
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