Evora: Everyone's been here, except the tourists

Romans, Visigoths, Moors all came, saw and conquered. Now a new flight is encouraging us to drop by, says Adrian Mourby

Once a week, the immaculate new civilian terminal at Beja airport welcomes tourists into the Alentejo region of Portugal.

Then the staff go home again. The 34m euros (£30m) terminal only started receiving flights on 22 May and, at the moment, only Sunvil uses it to ferry out UK holidaymakers, who get the full VIP treatment of an airport opening just for them.

But Beja could soon make a big difference to Alentejo, Portugal's breadbasket, a landscape famous for its cork and pork, its wines, olives and cheese. Locals claim Alentejo should be the new Tuscany. Direct flights to Beja could make it so.

As to what to see, well, it's only 40 minutes by road to Evora, which was a real surprise to me. If Evora were in Italy or Spain, tourists would be all over it like ants. This ancient city stands on a hill above the Tagus River. It was built more than 2,000 years ago by the Lusitanians, fortified by the Romans in 57BC, made King Leovirgild's Visigoth capital in AD584 and conquered by the Moors in 715.

There were minarets on the skyline for 450 years until Gerald the Fearless took the town in September 1165 and it passed to the Portuguese crown. Guides today will show you where Gerald and his men broke through the Roman gates and, if they're anything like my guide, Gertrudes Alfacinha, they'll complain about the cavalier way Portugal's medieval kings dealt with the architectural heritage of this city.

"Here is a fragment of the Roman city wall," Gertrudes tells me. "And here is where the aqueduct ends." Gertrudes is tiny but her gestures are big. "It used to go all the way down there past the Convent of San Paulo, but King Manuel destroyed the aqueduct to build convents!"

I don't want to make light of Gertrudes's complaints. She is very proud of her city and has every reason to be so, but when the worst thing that has happened to your home town is a medieval king erasing one level of history to build another, you're not doing too badly.

As we stand on Praca de Sertorio I can see rows of white and ochre convents, all with glorious Baroque facelifts from the years when Evora was dominated by the Jesuits. I can also see the white Gothic town hall, which is considered to be of no importance because it is only 19th century. However, when Gertrudes marches us inside (she knows everyone and no one gainsays her), we find the town hall was built over Roman baths. Behind the modern internet point, a wall has been removed and I'm looking down into a circular laconicum, the dry sweating room of Roman times.

"There is not enough money to restore the baths at the moment," says Gertrudes with a shrug. "Come, I have much else to show you!"

Our next stop is the Igreja dos Loios, a 15th-century church that was decorated in the 18th century with blue and white azuelos tiles depicting the life of the Blessed Laurence Justiniao. I have seen naves of azuelos tiles before, but here their muted beauty only emphasises the glory of the chancel beyond, which positively glows in gold leaf.

The church is next to the Cadaval Palace, home of one of Evora's ducal families and often a royal residence when the kings of Portugal were down this way. The kings used Evora as a base for the holy "Requonista". It took them 85 years after the capture of Evora before the last Muslims were expelled from the Algarve.

Outside it is starting to rain, so Gertrudes takes us into the Pousada de Loios, which is next to the Cadaval Palace. This, along with the church, was once a monastery complex, but after the Peace of Evora-Monte (1834), which concluded Portugal's civil war, church property was nationalised and ecclesiastical living quarters were turned into state hotels known as pousadas.

The building is a warren of lofty white and ochre cloisters, with each room a former monastic cell. Gertrudes marches us up the main staircase of monumental marble, hung with geometric Arraiolos carpets. We walk straight in to the presidential suite, a monastic cell with Baroque ceilings, cut-glass chandeliers and, thankfully, no president.

It's all much more sumptuous than I expected. Our last stop is the 16th-century University of Evora, which was the Jesuit College until the events of 1834. It sits on the edge of the old walled city with views out to the vineyards beyond. The building is huge, yet another Baroque structure in white and ochre with a two-tier quadrangle. Gertrudes leads me into one of the classrooms, bypassing the students in their long black hooded gowns.

Each of the 40 classrooms is decorated in blue and white azuelos again, with a low bench running round the room for students. But what makes all 40 exceptional is the ornate wooden pulpit in the middle from which the priests taught. It's a real curiosity, quite delightful, and not at all what I expected. That's Evora.

Compact Facts

How to get there

Adrian Mourby travelled to Evora with Sunvil (020-8758 4722; sunvil.co.uk/alentejo), which offers a week in Evora from £502 per person, based on two sharing, including return flights from Heathrow to Beja with BMI, seven nights' B&B at the Hotel Evora and car hire.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
books
Voices
Caustic she may be, but Joan Rivers is a feminist hero, whether she likes it or not
voicesShe's an inspiration, whether she likes it or not, says Ellen E Jones
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Sport
Diego Costa
footballEverton 3 Chelsea 6: Diego Costa double has manager purring
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
Arts and Entertainment
The 'three chords and the truth gal' performing at the Cornbury Music Festival, Oxford, earlier this summer
music... so how did she become country music's hottest new star?
Life and Style
The spy mistress-general: A lecturer in nutritional therapy in her modern life, Heather Rosa favours a Byzantine look topped off with a squid and a schooner
fashionEurope's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln
News
Dr Alice Roberts in front of a
peopleAlice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Arts and Entertainment
Unsettling perspective: Iraq gave Turner a subject and a voice (stock photo)
booksBrian Turner's new book goes back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
News
The Digicub app, for young fans
advertisingNSPCC 'extremely concerned'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Some of the key words and phrases to remember
booksA user's guide to weasel words
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Business Development Manager / Sales Pro

    £30 - 35k + Uncapped Comission (£70k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Business Develop...

    Graduate Sales Executive / Junior Sales Exec

    £18k + Uncapped Commission (£60k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Sales Exe...

    Web Developer / Software Developer

    £25 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Web Developer / Software Developer is needed ...

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Day In a Page

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

    ... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
    Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

    Europe's biggest steampunk convention

    Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

    The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
    She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

    Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

    The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
    American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

    Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

    James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
    Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

    Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

    Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

    Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

    Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
    The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

    The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

    If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution