This museum-city, whose roots go back to Roman times, reached its golden age in the 15th century, when it became the residence of the Portuguese kings. Its unique quality stems from the whitewashed houses decorated with azulejos and wrought-iron balconies dating from the 16th to the 18th century. Its monuments had a profound influence on Portuguese architecture in Brazil.
Historic Centre of Évora
© José Emilio Guerreiro/Luis Ferreira
Évora is the finest example of a city of the golden age of Portugal after the destruction of Lisbon by the earthquake of 1755. The cityscape of Évora demonstrates the influence exerted by Portuguese architecture in Brazil, in sites such as Salvador de Bahia.
It is the capital of Alentejo Province and one of the tourist attractions of the south. In spite of sharp population growth which has led to the construction of new quarters to the west, south and east, this museum city has retained all of its traditional charm inside the Vauban-style wall built in the 17th century according to the plans of Nicolas de Langres, a French engineer. The rural landscape to the north has remained virtually unchanged.
Évora has been shaped by some 20 centuries of history, going as far back as Celtic times. It fell under Roman domination, when it was called Liberalitas Julia and, among other ruins, still retains those of the Temple of Diana. During the Visigothic period, the Christian city occupied the surface area surrounded by the Roman wall, which was then reworked. Under Moorish domination, which came to an end in 1165, further improvements were made to the original defensive system as shown by a fortified gate and the remains of the ancient Kasbah. Moreover, the toponymy is indicative of the Maghreb population, which remained after the reconquest in the La Mouraria quarter of the north-east.
There are a number of buildings from the medieval period, the best known of which is unquestionably the cathedral, begun in 1186 and essentially completed in the 13th-14th centuries. It was in the 15th century, however, when the Portuguese kings began living there on an increasingly regular basis, that Évora 's golden age began. At that time, convents and royal palaces sprang up everywhere: St Claire Convent, the royal church and convent of São Francisco, not far from the royal palace of the same name, Os Lóios Convent with the São João Evangelista Church. These splendid monuments, which were either entirely new buildings or else constructed within already existing establishments, are characterized by the Manueline style which survived in the major creations of the 16th century: Palace of the Counts of Basto, built on the site of the Alcazar, and the Church of the Knights of Calatrava, the convents of Carmo and da Graça, Santo Antão, Santa Helena do Monte Calvario, etc.
The 16th century was a time of major urban planning as demonstrated by the ancient style: Agua da Prata aqueduct built in 1537 by Francisco de Arruda and the many fountains that remain (la Praça do Geraldo is the best known). It also marked the beginning of Évora's intellectual and religious influence. The University of the Holy Spirit, where the Jesuits taught from 1553, played a role in the south which was comparable to that of Coimbra in the north of the kingdom. Moreover, Évora began a rapid decline following the expulsion of the Company of Jesus by the Minister, Pombal, in 1759. Évora is also interesting for reasons other than its monumental heritage related to significant historic events and royal orders. This interest also goes beyond the many 16th-century patrician houses (Cordovil house, the house of Garcia de Resende). In fact, the unique quality of the city arises from the coherence of the minor architecture of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, which finds its overall expression in the form of myriad low whitewashed houses, covered with tile roofs or of terraces which line narrow streets whose layout is of medieval configuration in the old city centre and which in other areas bears witness to the concentric growth of the town until the 17th century.
Wrought iron and azulejo decoration, which is splendid in the convents and palaces and very charming in the most humble dwellings, serves to strengthen the fundamental unity of a type of architecture which is perfectly adapted to the climate and the site. Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC