Evora is in the Alentejo region of Portugal, halfway between Lisbon and Spain and is widely considered one of Portugal’s best preserved medieval towns. Although Evora’s history dates back to Roman times, its golden age is from the 16th century, when the Portuguese Kings lived there. Evora has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1986.
One of the reasons for us visiting Evora was to see the Igreja de Sao Francisco or the Church of Francisco and its rather macabre past. The Chapel of Bones or Capela dos Ossos adjoins the original church of Francisco and was planned and constructed under the guidance of three Franciscan friars. The friars purpose was to convey the message that life is temporary and fragile. The message is clearly seen by its chilling inscription over the door “Nos Ossos que aqui estamos pelos vossos esperamos” which translates to “We, the bones that are here, await yours.” I must say I was beginning to wonder about the minds or sanity of Franciscan Monks, as we have seen similar display of bones in both Rome and Peru, however I did read that it was in vogue at the time to create chapels like this.
The chapel was built in fact built on the monk’s dorm rooms or cells. The chapel has three naves and is lit by natural light. The walls in the chapel and its 8 pillars have been carefully covered by bones and human skulls in artistic patterns. The domes are made of bricks, plastered in white and painted with motives and symbols representing death. There are skulls decorating the doors and cornices.
At the time of the Chapel of Bones’ was planned and constructed, Evora’s two Franciscan cemeteries were overflowing and so it was decided to exhume some of the remains and use them for decoration in the chapel. Not only were the bones used to decorate the columns, domes and arches, but the smaller bone fragments were used to form part of the mortar. It has been estimated that around 5000 bodies were incorporated into the chapel.
The entrance fee to see the chapel of bones also includes entrance to the Museum and the collection of nativity scenes. Leaving the Chapel of Bones is a door leading into the Church of Francisco. The church was constructed between 1480 and 1510 and decorated by royal painters of the times. In fact that church was built on a previous, much smaller Franciscan Church but King Alfonso V had it rebuilt so he could use it during his stays in Evora.
There are of course many churches you can visit like the Se Cathedral and Igreja dos Loios, just to name a few, but if you only visit one, try the Church of Francisco. We did enjoy a walk around Evora, visiting the Praco do Giraldoright, named after Evora’s liberator, Gerald the Fearless. The plaza is very simply decorated with a white marble spherical fountain, that apparently replaced an earlier arch, from Caesar’s time, when there was a Roman Forum. Today the plaza is lined with buildings with beautiful wrought-iron balconies, shops and restaurants.
From the plaza it is a short walk up the Rua 5 de Outubroright, a narrow, cobblestoned pedestrian street, which is filled with souvenir stores selling products made of cork like mats, hats, bags and jewelry and tile, both very Portuguese products. The attractive street is also filled with whitewashed houses and leads on to the Se Cathedral and Roman Temple.
We did not stop at the Se Cathedral, but continued on to the Templo Romano or Roman Temple. It is believed to have been built in the 1st to 2nd Century AD, although it was largely destroyed during barbarian tribe invasions during the 5th century. In 1871 the temple was restored to its current state. It can be viewed from the outside.
- The ticket gives access to the Bones Chapel, Capela dos Ossos, Museum Centre, Cribs Gallery and Panoramic Terrace.
- Adults: 4 € │ Senior Citizens and Youth under 25: 3 € │ Family (two adults and two youth: 10 €
- 1st June – 30th September: 9 am – 6:30 pm
- 1st October – 31st May: 9 am – 5 pm