Evora – highlights for families


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Exploring Evora with kids

Evora is an ancient, sun-kissed city rising handsomely out of the cork oak forests and parched ground of the Alentejo, southern Portugal. Less than two hours from Lisbon, its compact size and wealth of sights makes it a perfect destination for a short break or, as we did it, a culture-packed and rewarding day trip.


The thermometer had already zoomed past 30°C by the time we reached Evora in mid-morning. We had lost our battle to beat the heat, so we decided to beat the crowds instead and headed straight for Evora’s most infamous tourist attraction – the gruesome Chapel of Bones.

Chapel of Bones

The Capela dos Ossos is one of a number of interesting curiosities found within the walls of the Igreja de São Francisco. It exists principally because Evora is a very old city. A very very very old city, in fact: people have been living here for over 5 millennia. Celts, Romans, Visigoths, Moors – just about everyone who was anyone in this part of the world has probably ruled Evora at some point in time. However, it was during the Middle Ages that the city really began to flourish, by which time quite a lot of expired Evorians were already clogging up the city’s cemeteries and, rather inconveniently, using valuable land.

The solution: dig up the cemeteries and relocate the bones to this purpose-built chapel. It was a win:win – Evora freed up more land for development, and its devout citizens obtained a place in which to reflect and meditate on the transient nature of life and the inevitability of death.

The kids’ reaction to this macabre place was understandably mixed. Ash (13) remembered reading about it in a Percy Jackson book and was intrigued and impressed in equal measures. Meanwhile the younger kids (7 and 5) didn’t really understand the scale and meaning of what was on display. By contrast, the more sensitive Mia (10) was obviously uncomfortable in the face of so much death. With my permission, she slipped out quietly to explore the remainder of the convent with her big brother… and she found an absolute gem…

Collection of Nativity Scenes

Last year in France, we stumbled across our nomination for oddball museum of the century: a collection of stick men in Champagne. Well, the Colecção De Presépios in Evora is possibly even more unusual… and arguably even better.

Imagination and humour are not exactly qualities that one would automatically associate with the rather austere subject of nativity scenes, but both were in abundance here. Reverence, by contrast, seemed to be chucked out of the stained glass window: most of the 300 dioramas on display simply either made us smile in admiration or laugh out loud with pleasure. After the doom and gloom of the Chapel of Bones, this was unexpectedly heart-warming and wonderful, regardless of any religious persuasion (or lack of it). We couldn’t drag Mia away from it.

Nativity scene in Evora

The exhibit is, in fact, only a tiny portion of a private collection of over 2,600(!) representations of the birth of Jesus, owned by the local Canha da Silva family. By sharing their extraordinary compilation with the public, the family hope to transmit “the universal message of love, peace and humility”. Well, it worked on us.

Temple of Diana

After the joyous and wholly unexpected wonder of the nativity scenes, the darling of Evora’s postcard industry – the Roman Temple of Diana – was not such a big hit with the kids. For us adults who can appreciate its clean, classical beauty and antiquity (2,000 years and counting!), it’s undoubtedly impressive. However, there understandably isn’t really much that a family can do at the Temple of Diana except gently admire it and pose for a photo or two.

Is it still too early for ice cream?

Igreja de São João Evangelista

But whilst dreaming of gelado at the Temple of Diana, Evora managed to surprised us again: directly opposite was the humble-looking Igreja de São João Evangelista, an attraction that wasn’t mentioned in any of the online guides to Evora that I had read in advance. In fact, bizarrely, this building doesn’t even appear on Apple Maps at all (still true as of May 2019!)

We are always intrigued by obscurity, so gladly handed over a few coins to peek inside and… holy Saint John the Evangelist!!! What had we stumbled into??

The spectacular azulejo-covered Igreja de São João Evangelista in Evora.

Modern tourist guide books to Portugal tend to gush about the famous “azulejo” tiles which adorn many houses, churches and monuments in the country. Well, we have been to Portugal countless times (OK, about ten) and are struggling to think of a more impressive and beautiful display of azulejos than in this church.

It’s weird, but the Google reviews of this church (yes, there are a few!) are mixed, with many “reviewers” complaining about having to pay an entrance fee. This is absurd. I entered São João with three kids, and it cost us €4. In total. That’s about the equivalent of a cup of coffee in an expensive city such as London or Paris. Personally, I am more than happy to pay a small but fair entrance fee if that money goes directly to the upkeep and preservation of beautiful places such as this.

Cathedral

The nearby Cathedral is slightly cheaper than São João (€3.50), and claims to be the biggest medieval cathedral in Portugal. It sounds like good value for money, and it is. But unless medieval religious art is your thing, the interior probably isn’t going to leave a hugely lasting impression. Cathedrals are a tough market to crack.

Rooftop of Evora Sé (Cathedral)

But Evora’s has a welcome quirk: visitors can climb up to and clamber over the massive Romanesque roof of the building, thus enjoying spectacular views over the city whilst indulging in something a little different. The adjoining cloisters are also pleasant-but-nothing-special except that – again – twisting spiral staircases take visitors up onto the roof. Running around on the roof of an ancient cloister – what more could culture-loving boys want?

But we weren’t finished with Evora yet. In fact, we had saved the best for last.

Almendres Cromlech

On our way out of the city – sweaty, dusty, exhilarated – we steered Daisy the bus down quiet dirt tracks, following signposts to the most significant megalithic monument in the Iberian Peninsula – the Almendres Cromlech.

Standing stones at the Almendres Cromlech, Evora, Portugal

Here, ninety-five massive granite menhirs eerily align with the moon, wind and stars. Sounds like Stonehenge? In a way, yes, but the Almendres Cromlech is at least 2,000 years older than its more famous English cousin, yet wonderfully off the mainstream tourist radar.

I’m going to be honest: I am extremely happy with this photo of Piko at the Almendres Cromlech standing stones.

As for many monuments of this type, the precise function and symbolic meaning of Almendres Cromlech has been lost to time, but the size and deliberate positioning of the stones testifies for its importance. As I stood in their shadow, I reflected on the astonishing similarity between these stones and the megalithic monuments in my native Ireland; what common belief inspired different people in different landscapes thousands of kilometres apart to create such similar monuments? As I pondered this, Mrs Daisy the bus was proclaiming that certain stones vibrated softly upon her touch, that she could feel the ancient, mystical energy within. I believed her.

You see, whatever your thoughts, beliefs or backgrounds, places such as Almendres Cromlech can only continue to inspire. There is, undoubtedly, something special there and I find it utterly endearing that the only access to a monument of this size and importance is via four kilometres of dirt track. I genuinely hope this never changes, that there will never be a visitor centre, an “interactive immersive experience”, a faux-chic café nor a souvenir shop here. Otherwise, amidst the overbearing noise of mass tourism, the silent magic of Almendres Cromlech may be lost forever.


PRACTICAL TIPS FOR VISITING ÉVORA, PORTUGAL

Chapel of Bones / Collection of Nativity Scenes – In the church of São Francisco, Praça 1º de Maio. A combined ticket costs €5 for adults and €3.50 for children. Family tickets available too. It does get busy, so get there early.

Temple of Diana – Largo do Marquês de Marialva. Free of charge.

Igreja de São João Evangelista – Largo do Marquês de Mariavla. €4 for adults, kids go free. Beautiful but compact; a visit of 30 minutes may suffice.

Cathedral – Largo Dom Miguel Portugal. €3.50 for adults (reductions for kids). This includes access to the rooftops which, in our opinion, is the most interesting part. Nevertheless those with vertigo can keep their feet on the ground and pay only €2.50.

Almendres Cromlech Stone Circles – Down a dirt track, but well-signposted from the main road between Evora and Montemor. Free of charge. Car park is only a couple of hundred metres from the stones. No tourist facilities.

Daisy the bus visited Evora in August 2018

(c) 2019 Jonathan Orr

Fifi and Hop
 
”CulturedKids”
Categories: cathedral, city trip, culture, family travel, historical site, museum, portugalTags: , , , , ,

29 comments

  1. I recently went to Faro and there was a chapel of bones there too! Fascinating. Thanks for a really interesting post #culturedkids

  2. Oh wow that Chapel of Bones would be such a hit with my boys and so spooky for me! Evora looks so cool and arty in your pics, thanks so much for linking into #CulturedKids!

  3. I’ve been thinking that i’d like to visit the stone circle – and now I really want to! Thanks for a great guide to Evora. #culturedkids

  4. So many things … you had me at Standing Stones. I didn’t think that the Stick museum could be bettered but I was wrong (my boys have heard tell of a snow globe museum in Vienna and are keen to visit). A Roman Temple. Do you have room in the bus for one more? #CulturedKids

  5. Great photos! It looks like a wonderful place to take a holiday to and just explore around.

  6. So much to see in Evora, love the quirky unexpected hit of nativity scenes, and that your daughter could feel the magic of Almendres Cromlech. I really hope to take my own kids one day and know exactly where to go now! #CulturedKids

    • If anyone had told me beforehand that we all would have enjoyed a collection of nativity scenes, I would have laughed in ridicule (I’m mean like that..). But it really was lovely. Hope you get there some day!

  7. We’ve visited it on a day trip from Lisbon, great town #culturedkids

  8. The azulejos in Evora are certainly the most beautiful I have seen – and I agree, complaining about a small entrance fee is ridiculous. #CULTUREDKIDS

    • It is indeed a bit silly to complain about having to pay €4 to see such beauty. This morning I bought a small latte in Luxembourg City: €4.75. I know which is better value… Thanks for reading!

  9. Wow, Evora is beautiful! I’ve never heard of it and at first it reminded me of Obidos. Think I would skip the Chapel of Bones though! #FarawayFiles

    • I guess Evora is a little like Obidos (it even has parts of its old city walls still in place), but quite a bit bigger. I like both places, but it is definitely easier to get off the beaten tourist path in Evora.

  10. We visited Evora last year and absolutely loved it, there is so much history there. Climbing on the cathedral roof was amazing. #farawayfiles

  11. I have always wanted to go to Evora! That is fascinating about the Evangelista and not being in any guide books – all because of the price? How strange because I agree those tiles look absolutely gorgeous. Thanks for linking up with #farawayfiles

    • I have no idea why it wasn’t/isn’t in the guides… It’s not like it was off the beaten track (it is literally beside the Temple of Diana). The entrance fee may put some people off, but as a whole Evora is relatively cheap, so I can’t see that being a big issue for most visitors.

      One thing that I did understand was that it was a privately-owned monument, so that may explain why it isn’t marked on Apple Maps or promoted by the local tourism authorities. It’ll be “discovered” soon, of that I’m sure. Thanks for reading!

  12. Ooh that Chapel Of Bones looks a bit spooky. I didn’t really know much about Evora, thanks for sharing
    #farawayfile

  13. YES!!!! I absolutely LOVED Evora and thought it was such a shame that more people didn’t know about it. When our little one is a bit older, we’re definitely taking him. Thanks for the guide!
    #FarawayFiles

  14. You had me up until “several thousand human bones”. Then it got even more interesting. Are the walls of the chapel made of the bones of villagers past? Or do they just line the walls? Either way, it’s pretty confounding and amazing. #FarawayFiles

    • Good question – I never actually considered that… I think the bones just LINE the walls rather than ARE the walls. The chapel is within a much larger complex of buildings, so I can’t imagine that thousands of crumbly old bones could actually serve a structural purpose. Happy to be proved wrong though!

      Thanks for reading, and greetings from Luxembourg.

  15. I think the chapel of bones would be too much for me. But the nativity collection sounds really interesting. I love seeing different variations of the same scene. #FarawayFiles

    • The good thing about the Chapel of Bones is that there are other interesting things to see (notably the nativity scenes) in the same building, with the same ticket. Take a peek at it; if, like Mia, you feel uncomfortable leave and enjoy something else without feeling like you have wasted your money. It’s a great visit. Thanks for reading!

  16. What a fascinating place! I already had it marked on my map but only for the bones – I had no idea there was all this to see. Hopefully we’ll manage a visit when we’re there in October #farawyflies

    • It’s a fascinating little city. Although this article is based on one particular visit, we have been there a few times and always enjoy it. I hope you make it there and I’ll be looking out for your post on it! Greetings from Luxembourg.

  17. Thanks for sharing this true hidden gem, Igreja de São João Evangelista,, with us. It looks amazing. And the chapel of bones is something bizar too. Thanks for sharing with #FarawayFiles

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