Initially the Romans named it “Ebora Cerelis” linking the place to the importance of the Alentejo plains for growing wheat. The surrounding area provided open mining of copper and iron, whilst the high quality marble went to embellish their fine villas. They then later renamed the town "Liberalitus Julia Ebora".
In 414 the Visigoths captured Évora from the defending Romans. They in turn were eventually evicted by the Moors led by Aziz in 713. The subsequently well fortified city was captured from the Moors by the famous Portuguese general, Geraldo Sem-Pavor in 1165.
However, retaken by the Moors it eventually was taken out of their grip by the same Portuguese General. Later Évora became an important place in the middle centuries when it was chosen by the Jesuits as a seat of learning. King Afonso IV resided here with his Court for 14 years, and also later Manuel I until 1511.
In 1663 Dom João de Áustria lead his Spanish army into the city putting to death most of the inhabitants. The town was later to be recaptured by the Portuguese army with the help of English forces.
In the 18th Century its influence waned when the University was forcefully closed with the expulsion of the Jesuits. This walled city with its strange enchantment was declared by UNESCO in 1886 as one of their World Heritage Sites.
Inside the city are many interesting buildings and in the surrounding countryside ancient archaeological remains can be found. This region around Évora is scattered with signs of the Roman occupation and even the much older Megaliths, dated between BC 4.000 to 2.000. As the region has always been an agricultural area there are many large private estates with their respective manor houses.
Basically the town and its population of over 41.00 likes to be considered as a seat of learning with its original University founded in 16th Century by Cardinal Dom Henrique.
Within the surrounding wall the most prominent feature is without doubt the 2nd or 3rd Century ruins of a Roman Temple dedicated to the Goddess Diana. Before being rescued from its neglected state of ruin in 1870 as it had been used in its history as an armoury, theatre, and even a slaughterhouse.
Among the attractive features is the 15th Century Convento dos Lóios that has been reconstructed as a fascinating Pousada. The city’s Cathedral started in 1186 took some 50 years to build and is reminiscent of a fortress except for having been flanked by two unmatched towers. The main square with its 16th Century fountain has a sad history.
Among other events Dom João II witnessed the beheading by his orders of his brother-in-law, the then Duque de Bragança who was accused of betrayal to the throne.
Events much later led to the descendents of this same Duke in 1640 to the throne of Portugal. Equally unpleasant were the "auto-fe" ceremonies held by the Jesuit Inquisition as impressive spectacles to place fear into the spectators.
Another macabre reminder is the Capela dos Ossos in the 15th Century Igreja de São Francisco. Here lies the bones of some 5.000 persons with an entrance sign reading “we bones that here await yours”.
There are several museums, principally the Museu de Arte Sacra, Galeria de Arte Casa Cadaval, the Museu de Artes Decorativas Religiosas and the Museu de Évora. The later museum was formerly the palace of the Bishop and was built with many worked stones from previous buildings in the city. It also houses some interesting religious items.
One of the outstanding architectural interest is the Palácio dos Condes de Basto The Palácio de Dom Manuel (also known as Convento de São Bento de Castris), which was built in 1490 was used as the seat of the court by the House of Avis during their reign. Outside and close to the city is a 18 kilometre Aqueduct built in 1532 to supply water to the city's inhabitants.
Nearby is the "Convento da Cartuxa" a 16th Century Monastery which is still occupied by 7 monks. When visiting take advantage of the many excellent restaurants serving regional specialities. A snack food specialty of the town is the “Pão de Rala” bread-cake made with pumpkin.
To the north is the city is the small town of Arraiolos with its prominent 14th Century castle and 16th Century church. This town has made its name from as early as the 17th Century with its superb quality handmade carpets and rugs depicting historic and religious events or attractive floral designs. However, there is evidence that this cottage industry is believed to have commenced in the time of the Moors occupation of the area.
To the southwest is the quiet sleepy town of Alcáçovas that attracted the King, Dom Dinis. Its origins are pre-Roman and in 1283 it was granted a charter as a town by Dom Afonso III. It was the historic location in 1457 for the wedding of Portuguese princes to two Spanish princesses and it was in this town that the Peace Treaty of the War of Spanish Succession was signed in 1668.
Directly to the south is the town of Viana do Alentejo, raised to the status of a town in 1313 also by Dom Dinis. To the south-east is the 13th Century town of Portel where only ruins act as a reminder to a visitor of its historic past. The castle was built by Dom Dinis in the 14th Century and there are several interesting buildings in this attractive small town that also date back to Roman times.
Directly to the east is the town of Redondo set in the heart of the wine district. This area has many megalithic monuments indicating that during the past Neolithic period it was a populated area and an interesting example can be seen at "Monte dos Almendres" with 95 standing menirs provoking ideas of the unknown religious past.
To the west of Évora is the town of Montemor-o-Novo. This town is the birth place of "Saint John of God" (1495-1550), patron saint of Hospitals and the sick. Dom Manuel I was very fond of the town and its former castle was the largest in Portugal. There are still many buildings within the town reflecting the Manueline style of architecture.
The museum in the Convento de São Domingos maintains an interesting exhibition of the many items found in the region which is rich in archaeological sites.
The nearby Grutas do Escoural caves contain paintings dating as far back as 30,000 years! Also, close by these is the Dolman known as Zambujeira which has a 14 metre-long entrance. Another important site is the Cromlech de Almendares, a circle of Menhir stones.
Even further to the west is the small town of Alcaçovas which was a favourite summer retreat of King Dinis who built its palace. The palace is now in ruins. The name of this town is also marked in history as being the location of a Treaty in the 15th Century which divided the known world between the Portuguese and the Spanish.
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