Located in the heart of the Alentejo region in Portugal, Evora has a history dating back over 2,000 years. As one of the country’s oldest and most well-preserved cities, Evora has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Considering its size and location, it’s also something of an architectural phenomenon. Its builders freely adapted whatever styles they desired, from Mudéjar to Manueline to Roman to Rococo. Once enclosed behind medieval walls, Evora lives up to its reputation as a living museum.
Sixteenth and seventeenth-century houses fill nearly every corner. Cobblestones, labyrinthine streets, arcades, squares with bubbling fountains, whitewashed houses, and a profuse display of Moorish-inspired arches characterize the town.
Evora today is a sleepy provincial capital and a popular day trip from Lisbon, but it’s a long trek, which doesn’t quite leave enough time to thoroughly drink in the town. From the grand Roman Temple of Evora to the Gothic-style Cathedral of Evora, and the picturesque Chapel of Bones, Evora offers visitors an abundance of captivating sights to explore.
Add in a vibrant art scene, mouth-watering cuisine, and a warm and welcoming local community and you’ll find the perfect place to immerse yourself in the rich history and culture of Portugal.
Whether you decide on a day trip or a longer stay, having insider information on the top things to see and do will help make your visit much more enjoyable.
Visit the Roman Temple of Evora
The temple, believed to have been built in the 1st century AD during the Roman occupation of Portugal, is one of the best-preserved Roman ruins in the country. The structure consists of a series of granite columns, originally topped with Corinthian capitals, and surrounded by a rectangular courtyard.
Built using local materials, the temple is believed to have been dedicated to the goddess Diana, who was associated with hunting, the moon, and childbirth.
Though it was eventually abandoned and fell into disrepair, the temple was rediscovered in the 19th century and began a restoration to its former glory. Today visitors can admire the impressive structure and learn about its fascinating history at the on-site museum.
Explore the Cathedral of Evora
Also known as the Basilica of Our Lady of the Assumption, the Cathedral is a stunning Gothic-style Basilica boasting breathtaking architecture and houses and an array of religious artifacts.
Construction of the cathedral began in the 12th century, during the reign of King Afonso Henriques, and was completed in the 14th century. The cathedral’s impressive architecture reflects the influence of several different styles, including Romanesque, Gothic, and Manueline.
Considered one of the most important landmarks in the city, the intricate carvings and sculptures, beautiful stained-glass windows, and striking bell tower make it a visitor favorite. One of the cathedral’s most notable features is its collection of religious art, including paintings, sculptures, and tapestries, which are on display throughout the building.
Marvel at the Chapel of Bones
A unique and eerie attraction, the Chapel of Bones (Capela dos Ossos) is adorned with human bones and skulls, creating a haunting, yet fascinating experience.
The chapel was built in the 16th century by a Franciscan monk who wanted to create a space that would encourage reflection on the transience of life and the inevitability of death. The chapel walls and pillars are covered with the bones and skulls of approximately 5,000 people, believed to be monks.
The macabre decoration is said to have been intended as a reminder of the fragility of human life and the importance of living a virtuous and meaningful existence. The chapel’s inscription reads, “We bones that are here, for yours we wait,” serving as a stark reminder of the inevitability of death.
Stroll Through the Historic City Center
The historic center of Evora, a UNESCO World Heritage site surrounded by ancient walls, features picturesque streets, stunning architecture, and a variety of quaint shops and restaurants.
One of the most impressive features of Evora’s city center is its collection of well-preserved Roman ruins. In addition to the Temple of Diana, the city is home to a Roman bath complex, a Roman aqueduct, and a series of ancient cisterns.
The center is also home to several impressive churches, including the Cathedral of Evora and the Church of Sao Francisco featuring an ornate Baroque-style interior and an impressive collection of religious art. Praca do Giraldo, is a popular spot for locals and tourists alike with several outdoor cafes and restaurants.
Another must-see attraction in the city center is the Palace of the Dukes of Cadaval, a stunning 14th-century palazzo that now houses a museum showcasing the region’s rich history and cultural heritage.
Visit the Almendres Cromlech
The Almendres Cromlech is a prehistoric stone circle located near the city of Evora and one of the largest and most important megalithic sites in Europe dating back to the Neolithic period, approximately 5000 years ago.
The site consists of two main circles of standing stones, with a total of 95 granite monoliths arranged in a circular pattern. The stones range in size from around 1-meter to over 3-meters tall and are believed to have been brought to the site from several kilometers away.
The purpose of the Almendres Cromlech is not fully understood, but it’s believed to have had religious or astronomical significance for the ancients who built it. The circle is aligned with the summer solstice, and many believe the stones were used as markers to indicate the changing of the seasons.
The Cromlech is not only an important archaeological site, but a stunning example of prehistoric engineering and a testament to the ancient people’s knowledge of astronomy and mathematics. This is a must-see for those interested in history, archaeology, or ancient cultures.
Sample the Local Cuisine
One of the best ways to explore a destination is to try its food.
Evora is renowned for its traditional cuisine, which includes dishes such as lamb stew, pork with clams, and gazpacho, to name a few.
You should not pass up the famous Alentejo bread – a dense, rustic loaf made with wheat flour and typically served with olive oil, garlic, and herbs.
And don’t forget to taste some cheese. Azeitão is a soft, creamy cheese made from sheep’s milk produced in the nearby town of the same name. It is often served as a starter or dessert, and pairs really well with local wines.
Enjoy Evora’s Top Cultural Events
The city offers a wide range of events and festivals taking place throughout the year.
- Carnival – Like in many other parts of Portugal, Carnival is a big celebration in Evora, with colorful parades, music, and dancing.
- Holy Week – During the week leading up to Easter, there are numerous religious processions and events including the famous “Procissão do Senhor dos Passos,” dating back to the 16th century.
- Festival da Juventude – This popular music festival takes place each summer featuring local and national musicians and bands.
- Festa de Sao João – This festival occurring each June is a celebration of St. John the Baptist featuring fireworks, music, and dancing throughout the city.
- Al-Mutamid Music Festival – Each September, Evora celebrates the cultural heritage of Al-Andalus, the medieval Islamic kingdom that once ruled parts of Portugal and Spain. It features concerts, lectures, and other cultural events.
- Evora International Classical Music Festival – This festival brings together classical musicians and performers from around the world every July for a series of concerts and performances.
- Festas de Nossa Senhora da Assunção – Every August, the town celebrates of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary with processions, live music, and traditional Portuguese food and drink.