This wasn’t my first trip to Évora. In fact, I have the slight impression of visiting this UNESCO World Heritage Site two times already. And yet, in both times, I took it for granted. Showing the city to someone who has never visited pushed me to see it.
I would like to show you Évora in the same three dimensions I saw it yesterday: the food, the architecture, and the people. This depth was precisely what was missing from my memories of the city, which is why I remember so little and what I did remember seemed little more than a white and turmeric yellow haze — picked up from, I’m sure, the characteristic colors of the façades.
Have you ever been to a place where every dish feels like it was made with love? That even the simplest, most mundane of foods taste like it was made especially with you in mind? When we reached Praça do Giraldo in search for a cafe where we could have a quick lunch we were, in fact, hungry, but I assure you that it had nothing to do with our enthusiastic reaction once we got our order. What we ordered was neither a typical dish from local cuisine nor was it an elaborate construction of flavors — it was merely a “bifana” (grilled pork steak sandwich). Something you could quickly grab at any cafe or food truck in Lisbon. We weren’t looking for a three-course meal of Alentejo’s delights (and trust me, there are plenty), we wanted something quick, affordable, and we weren’t even concerned about how big or small the servings were. It was fast, it was affordable, it was delicious, and it was very well served. Do you see how they treat even the simplest of meals around here?
Somebody told me we didn’t need more than one morning to see the whole of Évora. In fact, my previous visits must have been that quick (or quicker). But, now, I get lost in details. I do. Well, we do. Cobblestones on the streets, white and yellow walls, twists and turns of an old medieval walled city. Yes, we did see the main sites, but I can’t help to have the feeling we missed something. I am sure there is a fourth dimension to this city that I haven’t explored yet.
No matter how many times I try to walk a different route, I always end up starting in the 1st Century AD Roman Temple. It’s not the most majestic representation of the empire’s heritage, but it stands well enough for its legacy.
When we started walking down the street, we couldn’t not notice the cathedral, even if we wanted. Its presence can be imposing and silent at the same time — is that possible? Even if you can easily uncover the different styles of the building and its additions, the result is so organic that everything blends in perfectly.
Fast forward time to the 19th Century as you enter Évora’s public garden and feel inspired by the British feel of it: the bright red benches, the bandstand, the fake ruins, the peacocks. Maybe it was the lingering feeling that life is transitory (much reminded to us by the previous visit at the Bone Chapel) that led us to read the plaque under an old olive tree: planted in 1919 as a celebration of peace after the war of the Allied Countries against Germany. Now that we know all the Historical facts it would be easy to look back and think that that inscription is naive, after all, there was a second World War twenty years later. Instead, we read it as a reminder of how quickly things can change.
I had never been to the Bone Chapel but this time I figured it was offbeat and “strange” enough to pique Dhanish’s curiosity (and yours). “You’re restoring this?”, I asked. The lady selling me the tickets could’ve simply said “yes.” But she told me all about the restoration work, how it started, what they were doing first when they expected to be done, how important the work was and how soon they’d be able to showcase every piece of the collection they currently had in storage. She always mentioned “we,” every single time. And she took pride in the work, and how it would improve and how we should come back as soon as it was over so we could witness the results.
When we were finding our way to the Bone Chapel, an unusual church façade had caught our attention, and we knew we had to go back before we left. We were so distracted by the ornaments outside that we only realized the church was open a few minutes later. When we looked inside beyond the thick red velvet curtain at the entrance it was pitch dark; after a couple of seconds we got used to the dim light and realized the bare austere white walls, and wooden benches had very little to do with what we had just seen outside. It was one of those places you didn’t feel comfortable talking louder than a whisper. I approached the man sitting at the table on the left and asked him what church it was. “Church of Grace,” he said. “It has been closed for a while, but now it’s open for anyone to visit. I know it’s not much, but I still think there’s something to see.” And there was. The contrast was immense, but the sobriety of that church sort of made sense: the wooden benches, the white walls, the ceiling painted in white and light blue stripes, the simple wood cross at the altar. “The original ceiling collapsed and destroyed a lot of the statues, so they closed the church, and it was used only by the military next door,” he added.