Guarded by a pair of rose granite towers, Évora’s fortress-like medieval cathedral has fabulous cloisters and a museum jam-packed with ecclesiastical treasures. It was begun around 1186, during the reign of Sancho I, Afonso Henriques’ son; there was probably a mosque here before. It was completed about 60 years later. The flags of Vasco da Gama’s ships were blessed here in 1497.
You enter the cathedral through a portal flanked by 14th-century stone apostles, flanked in turn by asymmetrical towers and crowned by 16th-century roofs. Inside, the Gothic influence takes over. The chancel, remodelled when Évora became the seat of an archdiocese, represents the only significant stylistic change since the cathedral was completed. Golden light filters through the window across the space.
The cool cloister is an early-14th-century addition. Downstairs are the stone tombs of Évora’s last four archbishops. At each corner of the cloister, a dark, circular staircase (at least one will be open) climbs to the top of the walls, from where there are good views.
Climb the steps in the south tower to reach the choir stalls and up to the museum, which demonstrates again the enormous wealth poured into the church, with ecclesiastical riches, including a revolving jewelled reliquary (containing a fragment of the true cross). Encrusted with emeralds, diamonds, sapphires and rubies, it rests on gold cherubs and is flanked by two Ming vases and topped by Indo-Persian textiles.