Friday, 14 February 2020

Portugal: Évora - city centre

The Roman Temple

Having walked around the walls of Évora yesterday, today we are seeing some of the main sights of the city, starting with the most astonishing, the Roman Temple. It used to be known as the Temple of Diana, but this is now seen as incorrect. It has fourteen columns in the Corinthian style and dates from the first century AD. It is the only such building in Portugal.

To the left is the Palace of the Dukes of Cadaval. The grand doorway leads into the Palace's Church of St John the Evangelist, a rather lovely building whose walls were all covered in azulejos.

The museum next door had quite an interesting medley of contents. We especially liked these Chinese figures.

Next we had a brief look at the University of Evora, the second oldest in Portugal after Coimbra. It was founded in 1559 by the Jesuit order and closed in 1779 when the Jesuits were suppressed. It was only reopened as a university almost 200 years later in 1973. (It seems that the buildings were used for educational purposes in the interim.) The main building has a rather severe look from the outside ...

... but the main entrance at the far end is rather lovely and inside is a beautiful Renaissance cloister.

From here we headed towards the Cathedral or Sé. It was begun 20 years after the Christians defeated the Moors in 1165. The facade is similar in appearance to the Sé of Coimbra.

The great surprise is that you can climb a steep staircase and walk on the roof.

It was a bit hazy for views of the city, but there was an interesting view of the cloister - we thiought it rather heavy-handed.

On the way down there was this fantastic view of a a series of finials.

From the Cathedral we wandered through the narrow streets to reach the 16th century Square of the Moura Gate. It was difficult to appreciate it properly because the central fountain was under restoration and part of the square was cordoned off to store materials. The central fountain was intriguing.

To conclude our exploration found our way through more narrow streets to the Praca de Giraldo, the city's main square. It is a large a spacious area surrounded by pale coloured buildings.

At the far end is the attractive 16th century church of Santa Antao with its fountain. The square is effectively a monument to Fearless Geraldo Geraldes, the man who conquered Evora from the Moors in 1165.

We had by no means exhausted Évora's charms at this point, but we felt that we had gained a good sense of the city. It was time to head to Lisbon to see how it compared to our visit of 1993.

Conditions: sunny at first, but quickly clouding over.

Rating: five stars.

Thursday, 13 February 2020

Portugal: Évora - walls

The Porta d'Avis: the only remaining gate

We have just arrived in Évora after a cross-country journey from Condeixa Nova and having checked into our hotel wandered into the main square to get some lunch. Over lunch the idea of walking round the city walls took root and so we headed south along rua de Republica to reach the edge of the old city at what is now a park straddling the walls.

As will become clear, the walls date from different periods. The oldest sections are medieval. The total distance around the perimeter is about 5km. The first section had dramatic corner bastions with small lookout positions on the corners.

We first saw these in Dijon, a good few years ago,  although the Dijon ones were more ornamented.

Before too long we passed the Porto do Raimondo (alas just a gap in the walls rather than an actual gate) and now saw serious-looking battlemented walls in a sort of zig-zag pattern. I have included a man for scale.

After this, there battlements with projecting towers, some with little passageways.

Soon after this we passed the Porta Nuova (also just a hole) and approached the wonderful Prata Acqueduct which extended 9 km to the north to bring fresh water from a small river to Évora. The tallest arches are 23m high. It designed by Francisco de Arruda, who was also responsible for Lisbon's wonderful Belem Tower.

The only disappointment is that it dates only from the 16th century, rather than being Roman as we had fondly imagined. It was restored and altered somewhat in the 17th century during the Spanish and Portuguese War of Restoration (1640 –1668), a period of skirmishes between the two countries.

A little further away from the walls (but beside the acqueduct) was all that remains of the Forta de Santa Antonio, which so far as I can establish, was also built during the Portuguese War of Restoration.

Continuing along the outside of the city the walls things now changed: first the first time there were accretions on the outside. We thought they were pretty scruffy and should be removed forthwith.

We reached Porta d'Avis, almost 12 o'clock in relation to our starting point at 6 o'clock. The plaque over the gate reveals that it is the New Porta d'Avis and was opened in 1804.

The next, particularly imposing section, was right next to a dual carriageway.

After this the sequence of walls was broken by the buildings of the University (see my post Portugal: Évora - City centre)

We rejoined the circuit of walls at about 3 o'clock. From here back to our starting point was the least interesting part of the walk as there had been lots of accretions and a large part was now the site of the city's hospital.

Finally we reached our starting point and admired some more corner turrets ...

... and this imposing pink building with a lovely orange grove in its grounds.

Conditions: cool and rather grey.

Distance: 5 km.

Rating: Four stars. Interesting and satisfying, but not a match for some other examples we have seen e.g. Citadella (Italy), Montagnana (Italy), Kotor (Montenegro), Tallinn (Estonia).

Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Portugal: Coimbra

The Paco das Escolas (University Palace)

Today we are visiting Coimbra (pronounced Qweem-bra), Portugal's fourth largest city (after Lisbon, Porto ... and Braga) with a population of 140,000. It is principally famous for its ancient university.

We decided to start our visit however on the left bank of the wide Mondego river by visiting the Mosteiro Santa Clara a Velha (the old Santa Clara Monastery - there is a much newer one nearby. The monastery was completed in 1330 under the sponsorship of Queen Elizabeth of Aragon. It consisted of a Romanesque church with side aisles of the same height as the nave and a large Gothic cloister. Unfortunately, it was built on low ground near the river and was immediately flooded. the ground floor was raised repeatedly and in the 17th century a higher floor had to be built inside the nave. Soon after the nuns relocated to a new convent on higher ground and the monastery was abandoned.

This is what it looks like now after significant renovation works in the 20th century.

 There are some beautiful capitals.

And here is a view along the nave showing the upper level. I have never seen a church like it.

The site is now insulated from further risk of flooding by a curtain wall and is effectively an archaeological site accompanied by an interesting Interpretation Centre (sadly with labels in Portugese only).

Next we crossed the river to get our first view of the University buildings high on a hill on the right bank ...

... with also a nice view along the river towards the new Pedestrian Bridge, with a new road bridge beyond it.

We made the climb up to the magnificent Paco das Escolas - it is a UNESCO World Heritage site - with impressive buildings on three sides (the fourth is left open and offers a view over the river.

On the left side is the Old (or Joanine) Library (it is dead centre in the view above) which dates from 1711. From the outside it looks fairly austere ...

... however a tour takes you in via the basement, enabling you to see the Academic Prison (used up to 1832 for naughty students) and on the third floor reveals an astonishing interior divided into thirds with elaborate gold decorations and ceilings. Photography is not allowed, hence this postcard.

Nearby is St Michael's chapel, which dates from the 11th century but was renovated in the 16th. The organ of 1733 is said to be its outstanding feature, but we preferred the azulejos (tiles). Here too no photos are allowed, so here is another postcard.

The other great feature of the Paco das Escolas is the imposing statute of King Joao III who founded the University in 1537 in what was then the royal palace. It is hard to avoid the comparison with his contemporary, Henry VIII.

To conclude our visit we went to see the (old) Cathedral, or Sé. It was built in an austere, fortified romanesque style and was consecrated in 1184. The north facade has an attractive, if discordant, remaissance portal.

It has an imposing romanesque cloister with many carved capitals located at an odd angle to the church. It dates from 1218.

Inside the cathedral, there are some lovely azulejos, painting from various periods and a renaissance chapel from the 16th century.

Conditions: grey, about 16 degrees.

Distance: about 3 miles in all from where we parked near the Santa Clara Monastery.

Rating: 5 stars.

Tuesday, 11 February 2020

Portugal: Conimbriga

The house of the fountains

Conimbriga is a Roman archaeological site to the south of the University city of Coimbra, tomorrow's destination. It is celebrated as the best such site in Portugal and we could see that excavations are still underway. The visit follows a clockwise route from the entrance. The first striking sight is a stretch of Roman road which heads towards a gateway.

The road in fact ran from Olisipo (Lisbon) to Braccara Augusta (Braga) and was 4m wide which was the standard for Roman roads. This section would have had shops under porticos beside the road.

To the left is a series of buildings (well the bases of such buildings: low walls and mosaic floors). The mosaics are all geometrical patterns, with not a person nor a flower in sight. Some of them are very attractive.

At the back of this area is a massive wall, erected at the end of the 3rd or the beginning of the 4th century in the style of the wall surrounding Rome built by the Emperor Aurelianus in 270-275. For some reason it did not surround the whole city. 

The house nearest the wall is interesting for its round brick pillars made from bricks shaped like a thick slice of camembert.

We headed around the end of the wall and soon reached the Great Southern Baths in the style of the Imperial baths in Rome ...

... and the Palestra for sports activities. It is unusual to see ancient buildings recreated in this way, but it certainly makes it easier to get a sense of what they were really like.

Not far away was the Forum, the centre of any Roman town or city. This has also been recreated to some extent with three columns giving a flavour of the portico which would have surrounded it.

We headed back towards the wall where we admire this beautiful arch at right angles to it.

Then through a gap in the wall to reach the House of the Fountains, which is seen as the greatest treasure of the site. It dates back to the 1st century and would have been the home of an aristocratic family. It was demolished at the time the wall was built, but the surrounding mosaics and the water works were restored in 1953. The protective roof dates from 1971. You can see the water works in action by putting a Euro in the slot to one side of the building.

Conditions: warm and sunny.

Distance: about two miles in all.

Rating: four stars.

Portugal: Obidos

The castle and parts of the town walls

We arrived in Obidos last night to start 6 days of sight-seeing in Portugal. Obidos is a attractive small town famous for its walls and castle (now a Pousada or hotel). We started outside the town gate and our attention was quickly caught by the sight of an aqueduct whose columns stretched away into the distance. It was constructed in the 16th century to provide a constant supply of water Obidos. The project was funded by Queen Catherine, who sold her lands that surrounded Obidos to pay for the construction. The aqueduct extends for 3km to the southeast of Obidos, and there is a further 3km of tunnels to the source of the water.

The gate looks recently renovated, although it dates originally from 1380, but it does have a nice craft shop next door - see the woman in the window on the right.

As you enter the gate you are immediately confronted by the wonderful 17th century Oratory of Our Lady of Piety with its  beautiful 18th century tiles. I was moved to check the meaning of an oratory - it is a small or private chapel.

We headed along the winding main street, the Rua Direita, lined with the inevitable gift shops, which somehow seemed less commercialised than usual, to reach St Maria's square. This was dominated by the church of the same name. It was badly damaged by an earthquake in 1535 and rebuilt.

Inside it was a riot of colour, every surface being covering with ceramic tiles, azulejos.

 On the opposite side of the square was the surprisingly ornate pillory of 1513. The pillory was a gift to Obidos, from Queen Leonor, after the queen spent time in Obidos grieving the mysterious death of her only son in 1491. On the pillory is her emblem: fishing nets. It was apparently used to hang criminals.

And on the side of a building to the left of the church was this rather splendid figure.

We continued along the Rua Dereita towards the church of St Pedro - also rebuilt after an earthquake, this time in 1755.

Beyond it lay the castle, with imposing walls and towers ..

...surrounding a large keep which now has the hotel's restaurant on the top floor. A night-time shot felt more atmospheric. The window you can see has been rather crudely inserted into the wall, but as we later found out, offers a great view as you eat your breakfast.

Here are a couple of views from the rear of the keep taken the following morning.

Conditions: pretty grey for the most part.

Distance: a couple of miles.

Rating: four stars. A delightful town.