December 2019: After an exhausting overnight flight on TAP Airlines from Bissau, Guinea Bissau, I arrived early in the morning into Lisbon, Portugal. I didn’t want to let sleep deprivation keep me from exploring Portugal. Portugal was a new country for me and I wanted to make the best of my full day and night in the country. So I picked up my economy rental car at the airport, which just so happened to be a BMW, the nicest rental car I have ever had. I didn’t request a BMW but it was all the rental car agency had remaining in their inventory and they seemed to have a lot of them.

My plan in Portugal was to either go and see monster wave surfing at Nazare, where surfers can battle waves up to 100 feet tall or the medieval town of Evora-which would be the opposite direction from Nazare.  The swell forecast was poor for Nazare meaning no big waves, so I turned my attention towards Evora. From Lisbon I set off to the small town of Evora, which was going to be almost a 3-hour drive.

About Evora

Evora is a UNESCO World heritage site-a small town surrounded by a medieval wall that dates back to Roman times. Besides beautiful medieval architecture all throughout the town, there is a Roman temple, Roman aqueducts, and beautiful old churches. One of these churches was what grabbed my attention and became my main motivation for visiting Evora. It was the Capela dos Ossos or the chapel of bones. The chapel of bones is a small chapel made almost entirely of the bones from 5,000 corpses. 

My Route in Portugal

Many of the skeletons are of infants and some are even of the monks that helped construct the chapel. The monks believed that a church made of bones would be an effective reminder to the living of their own mortality and would help bring them closer to God. One of the monks left some though provoking poems on a pillar inside the chapel-all related to death. One of them, “Ponder, you so influenced by fate, Among the many concerns of the world, So little do you reflect on death.” I was excited to spend a relaxing day in Evora and I absoutely had to visit the Chapel of Bones. 

Exploring the Backroads-An Old Castle Structure

On my way to Evora I drove mostly along the highway but for the last hour, I turned off on to small countryside roads through villages and scenic fields. The weather was cold and overcast and at times it drizzled. As long as it wasn’t outright raining, I was happy. Afterall melancholic weather was more fitting for a visit to a Chapel of Skeletons.

Portuguese Stonehenge-Almendres Cromlech

Just outside of town is an ancient neolithic Stonehenge like site of a mysterious stone circle, Almendres Cromlech. The stone circle like the famous one in England-Stonehenge was believed to have been built by a Celtic Druid like culture that lived all over western Europe during ancient times. This particular circle dated back to 6000 BC.  diverted down a dirt road with mud puddles that splashed over my BMW rental replacing its white glean with streaks of mud. The road was rough and left me wondering if I lost some of the vehicle’s undercarriage during hard bottom outs on the road. When I arrived at Almendres Cromlech, I had the whole site to myself. The location is believed to have a religious or ceremonial significance to the ancient Druids that built it.

Almendres Cromlech

Almendres Cromlech

Evora

Walk along the medieval walls

I parked my car outside of the medieval walls of Evora because the roads inside looked too narrow and I had read that parking is hard to come by. Besides I was happy to explore by foot. I followed a walking path along the wall passed through an autumn-colored forest. The beauty of traveling in Europe in November is there are few tourists and most of the people I encountered were Portuguese locals enjoying their town. 

From the wall, I descended into the old town walking through cobble stone streets. Most of the streets were one way and there was barely enough room for pedestrians to move off to the side when vehicles passed. I tried to locate the Chapel of Bones with my walking GPS but I wasn’t having any luck. So I did what I hate to do..ask for directions from a stranger. I asked two boisterous Portuguese middle-aged men. It became evident to me quickly that they were very intoxicated, and they were on their way to the next pub. But they were very helpful and were curious about me. Instead of just pointing and sending me on my way, they kindly walked with me for 30 minutes until I reached the chapel. 

Sentry post

Midievel Tower

Winding cobble stone streets

An old 1000 year old ruined church

Old town

winding streets

Chapel of the Bones

I purchased an entrance ticket to enter the Chapel of Bones and hurried in to see the macabre site. The bone chapel is connected to another larger chapel where a church service was taking place when I entered. But I moved passed because I was here to see skeletons.  

The chapel dates back to the 1600’s when cemetaries in the area were being relocated because of the expanding town’s need for more land. The monks of the chapel decided that it would be better for the souls of the dead to be interred within the chapel and better for the souls of the living too so that they would receive a reminder of their own mortality. This the monks hoped would bring the living closer to God. 

Pillar of skulls

Altar of Chapel of Bones

Skull Assortment

Wall made of skeletons

Chapel of Bones

Chapel of Bones

Roman Ruins

If the mideivel buildings, and Chapel of Bones weren’t enough, Evora also has numerous Roman Ruins. A 2000 year old  temple is the oldest building in the country. Also outside the mideival walls are towering Roman aqueducts that were once used for the transport of water.

To find the Roman Temple,  I decided to drive my rental car since I was running out of time. I ended up finding it and eating lunch at a nearby restaraunt. When trying to leave the old town, I ended up lost in a maze of narrow one way streets.. Even though I retracted my side mirrors I drove into an downhill alleyway that was so narrow that I scratched the side of car. Since there was no way forward, I had to drive in reverse uphill. Luckily I pad for full coverage insurance and this covered the scratch on my BMW rental car.

2000 Year Old Roman Temple

Roman Aqueduct

After a day in Evora, I drove back to my airport hotel in Lisbon. The drive was miserable, and I found myself falling asleep on the road and I had to pull over at a gas station to catch an hour nap and then guzzle some coffee. 

I really liked Portugal and my 1 day/1night trip was just an introductory visit to tide me over until I can visit for longer someday.

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