Monday, 23 May 2016

Enchanting Evora

Getting to Evora was a little trickier than getting to Sintra. While the trains leave every 20 minutes all day long for Sintra, there are only two trains a day coming and going to Evora. Since we didn't want to get up early enough for the 7:30 train, that meant that if we missed the 9:30 train, we would be out of luck! This added a bit of stress (oh no!) to our relatively relaxed trip. We managed to take the subway, transfer to another line, stand in line waiting for our ticket while some crazy Canadian woman played 20 questions with the ticket seller (grrr), and finally got on the train with only a few minutes to spare! (phew)

The 1 1/2 hour trip sped quickly by, as we enjoyed the countryside along the way.

Evora is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with a rich history dating from the Romans in the 2nd century B.C. to the 4th century A.D., followed by the Moors from the 8th to the 12th century. This was an area rich in silver and wheat, and was a popular stop on the trade route to Rome. This was also a popular city for the kings of the 15th and 16th centuries, with some making it their home.

The ancient city wall is still standing, with gates that you have to pass through to get to the old part of the city. We loved that everything in the city was an easy walk from the main square, with the streets fanning out like spokes on a wheel from the city center.

Our first stop was the Church of St. Francis. Bryce was eager to see this, because he had heard that there was a bone room, and he still hasn't gotten over missing out on the catacombs when we were in Paris. It was absolutely fascinating, because it contains the bones of thousands of people who were dug up from the local graveyards. This was the brilliant idea of three monks who believed that they needed to provide a place for people to ponder the important things of life in the face of the certainty of death. Inscribed in the chapel is this little poem:

 The scraggy skulls
Are my company
I have them night and day
In my memory
Many were honoured
In the world by their talents,
And other vain ornaments
Which served vanity
Maybe in Eternity
The reason of their torments.
 Above the entrance to the bone chapel is a message that translates: "We bones in here wait for yours to join us." Hmmm, wonder how that might go over in one of our churches today!

The church is surprisingly ornate, considering the simplicity of life that St. Francis advocated. All the gold is a sign of the 18th century when gold was being brought back from Brazil by the boatload.

From here, we flagged down a taxi and headed out of town, down potholed roads for an hour to go see the megaliths. I was so excited to see these, as I have wanted to see Stonehenge since I read about it in my Social Studies textbook as a kid. Apparently it is no longer possible to get close to the megaliths in England, as they have been fenced off, but here in Portugal, they were surprisingly simple and accessible! These date from about 5,500 B.C. Now, that's old! This is 2,000 years older than Stonehenge! Wow! Wow! Wow! After watching "Outlanders", I thought I better touch one of them to see if I might be transported back to Medieval times to fall in love with a handsome prince, but nothing happened. I guess I'm stuck with handsome Prince Bryce!
Cork trees growing in the area

It's hard to believe that these megaliths weren't discovered until the 1960's. Although it is believed that the megaliths had a great sacred and symbolic nature, their function is still uncertain. The location of them does suggest a relationship to the sun and the moon, and it is thought that this was a sacred place where communities in the region would gather to celebrate the great cycles of nature.

Ancient writing on the petroglyphs

Once our taxi took us back to town, we enjoyed a late lunch in one of the small sidewalk cafes, then set off to explore, yes, another cathedral, The Cathedral of Evora! Oh, the fun never ends! This one had a museum attached to it full of historical religious artifacts. I almost got my hand slapped by the docent at the entrance when I tried to take a picture of the sign, though. In the most stern voice, "No pictures!" Bryce and I were kinda scared of her, so we skedadled out of there as fast as we could!

We did enjoy the views from the top of the cathedral, and Bryce didn't even complain too much about climbing another 600 stairs to the roof!

Next to the megaliths, my favourite site was the Roman Temple. More big wows! This temple has 14 Corinthian columns, and if we closed our eyes, we could almost hear the sounds of the Roman forums that took place here during the 1st century!

Although there was much more to see, we were running out of steam, and decided that we better grab that last train back to Lisbon. Our only regret was that we didn't have another day to enjoy this enchanting city!

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