Napa, Sonoma, Bordeaux: all towns, all well-known, all evoke “wine.” McMinnville, Walla Walla, Beaune, Bernkastel: more towns, though lesser well-known, but still conger up the concept of “wine town.”
Several months ago, as I have already started to document (Just Getting Started, Esporão, José de Sousa), I spent a week in Alentejo, Portugal, the largest wine region in Portugal. We stayed in the regional capital, a city of 55,000 inhabitants that has been inhabited for five millennia, became an outpost for the Romans, was ruled by the Moors for 450 years, and its city center was inscribed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986.
Any guesses as to the name of the town?
If any of you came up with Évora (eh-ver-ah), I owe you a glass of Aragonez (red) or Antão Vaz (white) the next time we meet.
Évora is a fascinating town, about an hour and a half drive due East from Lisbon, the royal family of Portugal spent winters in the town for close to 300 years, during the 14th through the 16th Centuries. Our hotel, in fact, was a former noble palace, built in the 15th Century.
The weather is quite temperate for most of the year, but it can be quite hot during the summer—temperatures in the 40s Celsius (40°C = 104°F).
Évora could be described as a city of churches with 22 Catholic churches in the city, many of which have some peculiar aspects to them. The Cathedral (“Se” in Portuguese) has a statue of the pregnant Mary which apparently is quite rare. Sculpted from stone and painted to look like wood, Mary is dressed like the Portuguese nobility of the time. The statue at the time was considered to be heretical, divisive, even sacrilegious, and the Cardinal of Portugal declared it should be hidden. Eventually, opinions changed and it was brought back in 18th Century, which started a worship to the pregnant Mary.
Perhaps the most visited site in Évora, however, is the Capela dos Ossos (Chapel of Bones). Reminiscent of the catacombs in Paris, the tiny Chapel contains approximately 5,000 skulls that were exhumed during the 16th Century. During the Middle Ages, cemeteries were placed outside the city, but as the city grew, the land was needed for new development. Instead of re-burying the corpses, they were moved to this chapel. At the time (and perhaps even today), this was seen as disrespectful to the dead, but the Franciscan monk at the time wanted to show that all were equal.