The morning starts at Évora’s Camping Orbitur with Seán snapping a stonechat feeding her chick in the poppy studded meadow beside our pitch.
Évora’s roads span out from the centre like wheel spokes. A 20 minute walk takes us directly to the ancient heart of town. Seán still manages to look longingly at the bus-stop outside the campsite, but I chivvy him past it.
Évora is all black and white cobbled streets. The white houses are edged in sunny yellow, with wrought iron bars on the windows. Church domes, spires and pantile roofs scramble up the hill to the stone castle.
Cypresses and pines point up to the sky from the gardens on the ramparts.
Our first stop, though, has to be lunch. The Café Alentejo’s under-croft is painted deep red and white, with artist’s canvases on the walls. I’m a total sucker for the starched napkins and tablecloths. We put ourselves in the hands of the waitress and start our feast with pickled rabbit, griddled peppers, local cheeses with a raspberry jam and rustic bread. Baked salt cod and spinach follows, then a duck rice dish. She’s surprised when we’ve no room for dessert.
We roll rather than stroll through the alleyways up into the gracious main square before diving into Sao Francisco’s Chapel of Bones. The walls and columns are lined with bones of 5,000 people. The smooth boned fibulas, tibias, thoracic bones and the hollow eyed skulls almost look like beautiful, strange shells.
Three 17th Century Franciscan monks built the chapel to solve the overflowing graveyard, but also to make us think about the transience of life. The inscription above the chapel entrance translates as: ‘We bones that are here await yours’.
Seán shifts a little uneasily, “Cheerful little place,” he mutters.
The Roman Temple of Diana sits on the summit of the town and is so well preserved because the Medieval Age saw it filled in and subsequently used as a slaughter house, ironically preserving it.
We’re on the hunt for the bookshop, Fonte de Letras, which we track down on the Ruta de Burgos. Unfortunately, it’s closed because of today’s Festival of Books, but it tells us it’s got a little hut there in the square by the Temple of Diana.
The reason for my obsession with Fonte de Letras is that it’s got a bubble-gum machine that spits out poems in Portuguese and English in little plastic balls. In goes my 50 cents and out rolls a poem by Florbela Espanca. Soon I’ve hunted down an anthology in Portuguese and English of hers. The shop assistant tells me she lived near Évora.
We pay silent homage to this writer I’ve just discovered at her statue in the rampart’s public garden.
Even the book’s artwork by Margarida Fleming is a thing of beauty. I have never heard of Florbela Espanca until now. She was the daughter of a domestic servant. Sadly, a poet whose work seems ahead of her time, she was born in 1894 and had taken her own life by 1930. To check her out click here: https://www.poetryinternational.com/en/poets-poems/poems/poem/103-29963_TO-LOVE
To read my piece of flash fiction inspired by the chapel of bones click on this link: https://campervanbard.com/2023/05/03/the-choice/
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