Brandon Sun (Newspaper) - June 29, 2002, Brandon, Manitoba
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Rural regions offer enticing landscapes and medieval fortresses rich in myth
By Nick Wilson
EVORA, Portugal — The skulls of hundreds of medieval monks stare out of an ancient chapel’s chilly walls in this myth-rich region where Arab fortresses from Crusader times keep watch over an enticing landscape of vineyards and cork and olive trees.
The Alentejo province is mostly arid but it is a majestic and little-known corner of Portugal, one of the world’s top 20 tourist destinations.
Portugal, a country of IO million people, enjoys one of Europe’s lowest crime rates.
The Alentejo is a world away from the cultural sophistication of Lisbon, the capital, or the mass sun-and-sand tourism of the southern Algarve coast.
But this farming province is anything but dull.
It offers a Roman temple nsmg from a medieval town; a palace where the last king of Portugal whiled away his days writing and decorating Portuguese menu cards; desolate, centuries-old fortresses sprouting from the plains; and an ancient market town at the heart of Portugal’s wine industry.
“It’s as if nothing’s changed for centuries,’’ says Mike Tate, 36, a British visitor.
Evora, a fortified town whose narrow, winding streets and many of its 50,000 inhabitants fit snugly within its medieval walls, is the region’s main city.
Perhaps its main attraction is a hilltop Roman temple whose graceful columns stand alone rn a square that is faced on one side by the Pousada dos Loios, a former 15th-century convent where you can dine in elegant cloisters. “Pousadas,” like Spain’s paraders, are palaces, castles and monasteries or convents converted into upmarket hotels.
Then there is the Great Square centred on a 15th-century fountain and lined with shops beneath medieval arches.
Evora, about IOO kilometres east of Lisbon, is a symphony of architectural
It’s as if
styles and ages.
A block away from the Great Square, the 12th-century cathedral’s soaring arches grace a building that has a serene cloister and a Sacred Art Museum.
Next door is the gruesome Chapel of Bones, a testimonial to the thrift of 16th-century church authorities.
When they wanted to use the town’s 42 monastic cemeteries as real estate, the authorities dug up the bodies and covered the walls and pillars of the chapel with the skulls and bones of about 5,000 monks.
Today, whispers of visitors drift out of its claustrophobic gloom, whose quietness is occasionally disturbed by children saying “Ugh!”
For lighter sightseeing, visitors can leisurely admire Evora museum’s collection of Renaissance sculpture and paintings.
Leaving the town, you pass through the sprawling agricultural estates spread iii d sly Ic of fanning that Julius Caesar founded when he divided up the land on Roman conquest from Celtic tribes.
The landowners’ white manor houses top the gentle hills of their holdings, surveying the lines of olive and cork trees and vines that stretch to the horizon.
“The land’s vast. It just opens up before you,” says Joaquina Alexandre, 40, a from the nearby village of
Legend tells of Hannibal marching his North African army with its war elephants through this gentle landscape to cross the Alps and storm Rome in 218 BC.
Outside the town of Terena is the site of a Carthaginian temple where Hannibal’s father, Amiliar Barcino, made offerings of gold and which Caesar’s troops plundered in 63 B.C.
The Arabs followed in the eighth century and stayed in the Alentejo for 500 years.
The old women dressed in traditional black clothes and headscarves, who sit by fountains in orange tree-lined squares, seem to hint at its Arab heritage.
Above, people walk past a 15th century fountain by the St. Antao church in the Giraldo Great Square in the heart of Evora’s historical centre, in the Alentejo region of Portugal. A world away from the cultural sophistication of Lisbon, the capital, or die mass sun-and-sand tourism of the southern Algarve coast, the Alentejo covers an area the size of Greater Washington D.C.
At left, tourists admire the ceiling of the 16th century Chapel of Bones. When they wanted to use the town’s 42 monastic cemeteries as real estate, the authorities dug up the bodies and covered the walls and pillars of the chapel with the skulls and bones of about 5,000 monks.
Below, tourists pass by the Roman Temple of Diana. The Alentejo province is a majestic and little-known comer of Portugal, one of the world’s top 20 tourist destinations.
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