Souvenirs from the past

As we have seen, since the Stone Age, occupants of Évora have left their mark. The Roman city walls mesh with later Arab fortifications and enclose squares with Moorish wrought-iron balconies. The Roman aqueduct leads to city gates with their original Roman roads and the old Jewish quarter once stood behind the main square. Catholic churches abound.

Évora has preserved its old center, and every cobblestone has seen a lot of feet go by. The main square, Praça do Giraldo, was a market during the Moorish period and it is still the center of Évora life. The Roman triumphal arch was replaced by the Church of Saint Anthony, and the fountain dates from the 16th century, once fed by the aqueduct. It’s a colorful area and like all of Évora, it has the feeling of a real city where tourists are only a small part of the life here.

Roman remnants pop up everywhere. The city wall extends under a small museum, and a Roman bath has pride of place inside the current city hall. One turns from the bath complex to the lovely 19th century building, now with free Wi-Fi.

And then there is the lovely temple that was part of the Roman Forum in the first century AD. It stands facing the current art museum, which is filled with centuries of local goodies, including the neolithic finds from the mound tomb we saw yesterday. The Romans also left treasures, and the collection extends through the Renaissance, with much religious art copied from the Flemish.

On the same square is the building that served as the tribunal of the Inquisition. Thousands of people, many of them Jews, were tried and convicted here, in what is now a contemporary art museum.

Nearby, just to leave no doubt about who was in charge after the Moors were conquered in 1165, the massive 12th century cathedral of Santa Maria de Évora was built upon the existing mosque. As we were visiting, there was a gathering of university students in their distinctive cloaks, though I would prefer to think of them as prefects of Hogwarts.

More about the University, where we next visited. This was established as a Jesuit university in 1559 and had a close relationship with the elite of Portugal. Too close, for the taste of a powerful minister to the King, who abolished the Jesuit society in 1759 and closed the university. It took 200 years to reopen in 1973 as a secular university with 8,000 students. Fortunately, the main building and its ornamentation was preserved. Classrooms were dedicated to specific topics, illustrated in tiles along the walls. The pulpits allowed the Jesuit professors to pontificate with the force of God behind them. That effect is somewhat diminished with today’s desks, white boards, and AV equipment in evidence. But the doors are original and the overall effect is quite serious. We were allowed to peek into the old refectory and the library, with its lovely painted ceiling and students hard at work.

Lots of charming corners in this city, a small jewel of Portugal, though a Communist stronghold.

Don’s Food Corner

Today we were able to get to a restaurant during proper lunch hours — noon to 3.  Using Michelin Guide as our source for a recommendation, we found our way (via taxi) in one of the town’s narrow streets to sample what was described as “traditional cuisine in a contemporary setting.”  That turned out to be accurate and we settled in for a very enjoyable meal.

This being Portugal, the menu offerings were equally split between fish choices and meat, with a few vegetarian selections thrown in.

Jo had a nice-sized piece of salmon that was served in a mushroom cream sauce that also had a few small shrimp.  A couple of boiled potatoes rounded out the dish. She started with a bowl of the “soup of the day,” which, as in every restaurant we’ve been in, turned out to be vegetable soup. The look and taste of the soup was also unvarying from every other one we’ve tasted.  And we still cannot determine what gives this soup its distinctive color.

We originally thought that it came from carrots, although no carrot flavor is discernible, or pumpkin or maybe lentils. Again, none of those possible ingredients stand out in the flavor. Today we thought maybe turmeric is added to give that color. Since Portugal is, after all, the country that first brought spices back from India, perhaps this spice coloring has found its way into everyday soup. We tried to quiz the waiter about the ingredients, but, like other waiters we’ve asked about this, he just shrugged as if to say “Many.”

I was focused on pork because we had been told the day before that one of the regional specialties is the raising of black pigs that are fed free-range and solely on acorns. When the acorns start falling from the trees, they say: “Time to bring out the pigs.” I saw that the menu specifically mentioned black pig pork, so I jumped.

If I hadn’t known that the color of the pig was black I would have thought that the pork itself would be presented as black and I would have passed over it. It turned out that today’s pork was served with the same type of mashed bread porridge fried up with garlic and olive oil that I had yesterday in a much more modest restaurant. Was there much difference? Not really,except that it was presented in a far more sophisticated manner; the waiter plated everything from a serving platter. The pork was prepared as grilled tenderloin. (Yesterday there were pork pieces mixed in with the bread porridge.) I have to admit that I didn’t detect any acorn tones in the meat, but I’ve never tasted an acorn so I couldn’t tell for sure.

I started with a pot of baked local sheep cheese mixed with various herbs. Nice and tart and gooey. Jo helped herself to some of that. There was a little battle for the final scrapings from the side of pot.

I also had a glass of Argilla from a local vineyard. Like the local wine I had the other day, it was bold. All in all, a great choice of restaurant.

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