Evora, an eternal city in the Alentejo, is a UNESCO site steeped in Roman and medieval heritage.
The city’s golden age came in the 1400s, when Portuguese kings chose it as their home, and Evora’s streets still recall the influx of aristocrats 500 years ago.
The Romans were the first to settle the town, building defensive walls and leaving the ruins of a temple.
Evora is also home to the second oldest university in the country, an ancient cathedral, a named church and a chapel entirely decorated with human bones.
Finally, the Neolithic monuments at Almendres and Zambujeiro suggest that some form of civilization existed in these regions long before the Romans.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Evora:
1. Roman Temple of Evora
At the highest point of the city where the ancient forum of Evora is located, is probably the greatest Roman monument in Portugal.
This Corinthian temple was built in the 1st century and was probably dedicated to Diana.
Up close you will notice the difference in materials; the fluted columns are made of granite, the base and capital are marble, shipped from Estremoz, some 40 km northeast.
The monument has survived because its walls were filled in during the Middle Ages, when it was turned into a small fortress, which was then restored in the 1870s.
2. Evora Cathedral
Also at the top of the town is the imposing pink granite cathedral of Évora, with its unmistakable towers with conical spires.
The building was completed in stages from the early 13th century, resulting in a jumble of buildings with cavernous Gothic naves, Manuel choirs with elaborate vaults, and Baroque chapels.
The monument is fully open to visitors, so you can walk up to the roof terrace overlooking Évora or into the garden’s Gothic cloister with orange trees.
There is also a small museum with a gleaming set of ceremonial gold and silver artifacts.
3. Evora Museum
Housed in the old Bishop’s Palace, the city’s museum dates back to the 1500s and houses some 20,000 objects related to the history of Evora.
On display are paintings, sculptures, jewellery, furniture, textiles, goldwork and ceramics.
If there is a mandatory exhibition, it must be the 19-panel polyptych that was once on the cathedral altar.
Painted in Bruges at the turn of the 16th century, this painting depicts scenes from the life of Mary and the Passion.
There are many more paintings to admire, notably the Renaissance works by Francisco Henriques, a Flemish artist who made his name in Portugal, and Gray, the court painter to King Manuel I Gregório Lopes.
4. University of Evora
Portugal’s second oldest university is located in Évora, founded in the 1500s by Pope Paul IV and the future King Henry I (then a cardinal).
It was a Jesuit college for the first 200 years, before the order was expelled from Portugal in the 1750s.
There’s a lot to do here, but you’ll have to investigate the elegant arcades and galleries in the main courtyard.
Don’t miss the chance to visit some of the classrooms, which are decorated with varnishes that vary depending on the area taught.
You might notice Aristotle teaching Alexander the Great or Plato teaching his followers.
5. Historic Center
The World Heritage Site of Évora includes the entire old town within the city walls, all the way to the cathedral and the Roman temple.
If your idea of the perfect afternoon is aimless exploration and random search for the perfect photo opportunity, then Old Évora will be on your street.
The labyrinthine streets and slender squares of houses are painted white, with wrought-iron balconies and lovely glazing.
Most are from 1400-1700, taking you back to the days when Evora was favored by royalty.
Around this time, Portugal was expanding its influence into the New World, and the city had a strong influence on Brazilian architecture.
6. Noble House
In the 1400’s and 1500’s the court moved to Evora with the Portuguese kings, giving the city many distinguished houses to discover as you wander around.
Visit the Paço dos Duques de Cadaval, whose towers are part of the city walls, and you can enter the interior, decorated with antique furniture and paintings.
Connected to the Roman walls, Paço dos Condes de Basto stands out for its loggias and Moorish-style horseshoe-shaped window arches.
Casa Garcia de Resende is notable for its Manueline (early 16th century) stonework above its main window, while Casa Soure has a vaulted gallery topped by a white conical spire.
7. Piazza Girardo
The main square of Évora was laid out in the 16th century and was the scene of the Spanish Inquisition, where thousands of cruel sentences were handed down.
On a lighter note, it also houses the marble Fonte Henrique, co-located with an earlier 16th-century fountain in honor of the Agua Prata aqueduct.
There are eight spouts in the fountain, each for a street branching off from the square.
The north side is occupied by the striking façade of the Church of Sant’Anton, while the east side has a continuous arcade that hides cafés and specialty shops.
8. Capella dos Ossos
This chapel, attached to the Church of San Francisco, is not for the squeamish.
It is an ossuary with walls, arches and supporting columns lined with bones and skulls in a cheerful arrangement.
These are the remains of thousands of monks, recovered in the 16th century from several crypts and cemeteries.
This Franciscan church was built at a time when the spirit of the Counter-Reformation was high and the idea was to remind believers of the ephemeral nature of life.
If there is any doubt about this message, there is an inscription in Latin at the entrance that reads “Our bones, here, wait for you”.
9. Church of San Francisco
Also need to see the church that hosts Capela dos Ossos, especially since it is a place of worship for the royal family.
This is clear on the portal, which was carved in the Manueline style in the first decades of the 1500s.
The decoration features an armillary sphere, the emblem of King Manuel I, and a pelican, representing King John II. The nave has enormous dimensions (it is the largest church interior of its kind in Portugal) and you should set your sights on the groin vault on the ceiling.
A peculiar thing about the choir is that the stall opposite was made at a different time. The one on the right is the Renaissance of the 16th century, and the one on the left is the Baroque of the 17th century.
10. Agua de Prata Aqueduct
One of the most striking sights around Evora is this 16th-century aqueduct that directs water nearly 20 kilometers to the city.
It is theorized that this Renaissance structure followed the same route as the original Roman aqueduct, incorporating some stonework.
In the residential area of Évora, houses are built in arches.
When it was completed in 1537, a grand ceremony took place in Piazza Giraldo, attended by King John III and his court.
After a day out, you won’t soon forget that you can take a taxi to the source, then follow the route back through cork oak forests with stunning views of the city.
11. The Wall of Evora
Once in Evora, head to the Tourist Office, where you will find a handy map listing the best places to visit the city’s fortifications.
It now appears that the walls, towers and gates are from the reign of King Alfonso IV in the 1300s, but their origins and routes date back to the 3rd century, and you can also find traces of the Moors from the early Middle Ages.
With an area of more than 10 hectares and a city wall of about 2 kilometers, there are many attractions.
A good starting point is Jardim Público, a few steps from Capela dos Ossos, where a section of the city wall forms a picturesque barrier within the park.
12. Convento dos Lóios
The monastery was built in the 1400s on the ruins of a medieval castle.
Some monastic buildings, including canteens and monks’ cells, have been turned into Pousadas (heritage hotels). You can go inside and explore the church, it’s much richer than it looks from the outside.
That’s because after the devastating earthquake of 1755, the exterior had to be remodeled.
The ceiling of the nave has superb Gothic vaulting, and the walls are decorated with blue and white glazing.
The church also houses the mausoleum of the Counts of Olivenza, most notably Rodrigo Afonso de Melo, chief guard of King Alfonso V.
13. Almendres Cromlech
Not far west of Évora is this jaw-dropping Neolithic site, 8,000 years old and in use for three thousand years.
This is the largest stele arrangement in Iberia and the largest stele arrangement on the entire continent.
With a total of 95 standing stones forming two huge circles, the site was unbelievably hidden for thousands of years until it was excavated in the 1960s.
Some of the mystery surrounding this stunning monument comes from the many carvings in the stone, with circles, spirals, crescents, dimples and an upside-down shepherd’s bend.
14. Anta Grande do Zambujeiro
Nearer than Almendes is another mysterious megalithic monument more than 5,000 years old.
It’s not a stone circle, but a funeral home at the end of a granite stone corridor.
It was discovered at the same time as Almendrez, and artifacts unearthed at the site are on display at the Evora Museum.
The site is so complete that you’ll have a firm idea of the technical skills possessed by Neolithic builders in the area.
You can peek directly inside the room and see how the massive stones have been carefully positioned to form an ordinary building.
15. Local dishes
You can dine like the Évorans and sample some of the traditional Alentejo cuisine, earthy and satisfying, designed to nourish generations of rural workers.
Açorda is a paste made with garlic, olive oil and vinegar, served with poached eggs on bread slices.
Migas com carne de porco is leftover bread soaked in water, garlic and spices and mixed with braised pork.
The Alentejo is also famous for its desserts, such as sericaia, an egg pudding flavored with orange peel and cinnamon, or pão de rala, literally a bread pudding traditionally made in monasteries, with lemon peel, spices, almonds flour and eggs.
Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Evora, Portugal
Lowest price guaranteed.