There are no certainties as to the origin of the name Évora. The prevailing theory says that it probably came from the Celt word eburos, meaning yew tree. Judging by the name one could say it was a close cousin to the city of York in England, known in former times as Ebora Kon, or the place of the Yew trees. In the 1st century A.D., Évora was known as Ebora Cerealis, in a reference to the cereal crops that grew around it.
But even if we can’t be sure about its origins, we know how rich its history has been since Neolithic times and why it deserves more than a pit stop when you next visit Portugal. Its historical center has been a part of UNESCO’s World Heritage since 1986 and it features an enormous number of significant buildings. From the Royal Palace, a former royal residence and temporary Parliament, to the Garcia Resende Theater, an Italian baroque theater resembling Milan’s La Scala, your travel agent in Portugal will have no trouble filling out your itinerary.
If you’d like to start chronologically, then the Cromlech of the Almendres should probably be your first stop. Think Stonehenge with menhirs in the Alentejo plains. This monument with a circular pattern features exactly 95 granite monoliths and although it dates back to the 6th millennium BC, it was only discovered in 1966.
Moving forward to the times when Évora was under Roman rule, most visitors are under the impression that Évora’s Roman Temple was dedicated to Diana, Goddess of the Moon. Sadly, the reality is a bit more prosaic, as the temple was built in homage to Emperor Augustus and for most of its lifetime (14-18th centuries) was actually used as... an slaughterhouse. The good news is that this activity helped preserve its remains and ultimately saved the temple from total destruction.
One of the most emblematic places to see in Portugal is undoubtedly the Chapel of Bones: it is essentially a chapel whose interior walls are covered with human bones and skulls... about 5000 of them... The chapel is a 16th century religious project: it was built by a Franciscan monk trying to make a stand about how ephemeral life is. His ultimate goal was convincing people to follow the practice of contemplation. As grotesque as this may sound, a visit to this Chapel can be one of your most unique experiences in Portugal.
If by then local history and architecture haven’t entirely blown you away, rest assured local cuisine will. Évora, and Alentejo in general, are known for the countless regional delicacies they have to offer. From Carne de Porco à Alentejana (Pork with clams in a casserole, Alentejo style) to Sericaia (an Indian dessert which found its way to Portugal), you will be sure to find something to pamper your taste buds.