Brief historical view

Brief historical view

Évora lies in the heart of the Alentejo peneplain in the confluence of three major river basins - Tejo, Guadiana and Sado -, its a millenary crossing point of roads and commercial routes linking and still connecting the coast to the interior, the north to the south.

The region of Évora is an old territory with signs of human occupation since prehistoric times.

The unique geographic situation, could in part explain the importance of the city since antiquity, a political and social center of all the civilizations that marked, what the Portuguese territory is nowadays,.

During the Roman period, Évora reached the status of municipality of Latin Right and the honorific designation of Liberalitas Julia. This period was characterized by a remarkable development on an economic and artistic level, as is evidenced by the monumental vestiges that have survived to the present day.

The epochs of Visigoth and Muslim domination, remain in large part obscure. The city kept, however, its importance as a regional urban center. At the end of the Islamic period the city was wide and populous: with two mosques, an intense commercial activity and fertile greenbelts, with diversified agricultural production.

The conquest of Évora in 1165 and its integration into the kingdom of Portugal was a turning point in its history. The city will gradually assume the position of main urban center in the south of the country, an important religious, political and military centre.

The first remarkable work of the Portuguese period was the Cathedral, an impressive building that marks the surrounding landscape and is an incomparable architectural example in the national Gothic. Throughout the Middle Ages the foundation of churches and monasteries moulded the urban spaces, which grew along the ancient ways to the city and beyond the old walls, whereas Praça Grande (today Giraldo) became little by little, the main urban space. Moorish and Jewish quarters were, in that order situated north and west of the old city wall.

The expansion of the city forced the construction of a new wall in the fourteenth century, which would be for centuries its physical limit.

Since King John I, Évora assumed an important role in the life of the country, being frequent residence of the court and considered the second city in the country. In the end of the fifteenth century the population was estimated around 10,000.

The sixteenth century regarded as the city's golden century, would see the reconstruction of St. Francis Convent, and the installation of the Royal Palace, the foundation of the University and the construction of several churches and palaces. The building of the Aqueduct of Água de Prata, changed the overall image of the city, structuring various urban sectors and giving rise to the opening of two new streets. In this period the urban structure was practically defined, and the area within the walls almost fully occupied. The main urban axis between Porta de Moura and Porta Nova was already established.

In 1637, a popular uprising challenging the policy of the Spanish crown erupted in Évora –  known as “Alterações de Évora”- spread to other parts of the country and was seen as an omen of the Restoration of Independence in 1640. After 1640 during the War of Restoration, a new defensive system was built, consisting of a set of fortifications and Vauban ramparts.

The closing of the University, after the expulsion of the Jesuits (1759) represented a severe blow to the city, starting or accenting a process of relative declining, which would continue until the twentieth century.

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the construction of large buildings decreased, as the importance and prestige of the city come into decline, albeit reconstructions and renovations in existing buildings has occurred.

During the nineteenth and early twentieth century a set of interventions changed the urban space: the total or partial demolition of large historic buildings gave rise to new squares, streets, gardens and equipment (theater, post office, market). The irreparable loss in terms of heritage, must be understood in view of the need to adjust the city to the new functional requirements.