NOVEMBER 27, 2021: Shabbat was spent in Evora. Although our pace was a bit slower this past week, a day of rest was welcomed. Saturday morning Mark said morning prayers on his own – there is no Jewish community here. After prayers, we had a light kiddush meal, and then left the apartment to explore the town.
From our brief walk yesterday, Evora seemed like a bustling place. Today was no different. It has a very large historic center within the old city walls. Our apartment is on one side of it, and the other end of the historic district is about two kilometers away. There were areas where we saw mostly tourists, and other areas full of locals going about.
Outside each of the city gates, there are huge parking lots full of cars. Although people do drive in the old city, most park outside and the streets are full of people walking the narrow lanes.
Our first destination in Evora was the Public Library. This library supposedly has a first edition copy of Almanach Perpetuum, a book first printed in Leira in 1496. This is a book written by Abraham Zacuto, a crypto-Jew, which has navigational tables that were used by the great explorers, such as Vasco de Gama, and it played a vital role in enabling them to make their discoveries. We entered the library and found a beautiful reading room – actually two reading rooms. Showing the name of the book to the librarian, I asked where we can see it. He spoke no English but wrote his answer on the computer in Google Translate which I then read. I learned that the book is in the reference room, but that the reference room is only open on weekdays. On Monday we will no longer be in Evora, so we needed to give up on seeing this book. Aside from the reading room, there was also a large, more modern lending library, that included a large selection of children’s books.
Next door to the library, is the Museum of Evora. We had read in several articles that there is a tombstone there with Hebrew writing. We entered to go in, but unlike most museums we have been to, this time there was an entrance fee. We had no money on us because of Shabbat, so we gave up on going to the museum.
Both the museum and the public library are on the same plaza. In the middle of this plaza, are the remains of a Roman Temple. When you see photos advertising Evora, it is usually a picture of this temple.
We then wandered through the streets in the direction of Giraldo square. This is the largest square in Evora and has historically been the heart of the city. During the inquisition, Evora was one of the seven cities that had inquisition courts. It tried more cases than any of the other courts. Some sources say the autos-de-fé (the rituals of public penance or in other words, the executions of the condemned) in Evora were done in Giraldo square. Other sources say they took place in the plaza of the Roman temple.
On the way, we came across a nice house with a courtyard that is being restored. Reading the sign next to it, it turned out that this was the home of Álvaro Mendes de Vasconcelos, an ambassador of King João III, who was charged with negotiating with Pope Paul III (head of the Catholic Church from 1534 to 1549) the establishment of the inquisition in Portugal. Sometimes a small find like this brings history alive more than any museum.
The Tourist Office was located in Giraldo square, and I went in to ask where the Jewish Quarter was. It was nearby – basically two parallel streets running off the square. We walked down one of the streets, but today it looks just like all the other streets in Evora. Nothing we saw distinguished it as the previous Jewish quarter.
From there we decided to continue on to the aqueduct. As we wandered through the streets, the side streets were mostly empty, but the main roads were full of people. In the street with the tourist shops, in Giraldo square and by the Roman Temple, you saw the tourists, but in the other main shopping streets, the sidewalks were packed with locals. At the aqueduct, a truck was parked with an advertisement for the Evora marathon. Mark noticed the date and realized that this would take place tomorrow morning. Little did we know at the time how this would affect us.
We had walked over six kilometers wandering in and out of the lanes of the city. By the time we returned to our apartment, we had worked up a good appetite for lunch. Lunch was leftovers from the night before. We were so hungry that even cold they tasted good. Then it was Shabbat nap time for Mark while I worked on my blogs.
After Shabbat we finally did our Hanukah shopping. Pretty amazing, here we were in a rural area of Portugal, Europe and we were able to buy and send gifts to our grandchildren on three different continents – one in North America (New York – using Amazon), three in Africa (Johannesburg – using takalot.com) and six in Asia (Israel – using Amazon free shipping to Israel). When we were younger, we never even imagined the possibility of this.
Tomorrow we will return to the museum.