Evora, Portugal, a lively university town 95 mi/150 km southeast of Lisbon, has a macabre attraction: The chapel in the church of Sao Francisco is fashioned from the skulls and bones of 5,000 monks. The bones and skulls were treated as design elements, used like mosaic tiles to create patterns in the walls and columns and around windows. This place is not for the squeamish—one skeleton, in tattered robes, hangs from the ceiling like a dreary wind sock on a still day.
Even without the Chapel of Bones, as it is called, Evora would still draw plenty of travelers—it's a good example of a walled medieval city and has fine architecture dating from the Roman era, including the base and columns from a small temple. The interior of the Church of the Loios is covered with beautiful azulejos. Red-roofed, whitewashed buildings line incredibly narrow cobblestoned streets. Wend your way from the church to the university, seek out the arts and crafts galleries, then just stroll through the residential neighborhoods—the town, a UNESCO World Heritage site in its entirety, has a wonderful atmosphere.
Evora is a good base to explore the surrounding region, which is considered to be the bread basket of Portugal. About 30 mi/48 km northeast of Evora is Vila Vicosa, where the possessions of Dom Manuel II, Portugal's last king, are found in the palace of the Duke of Braganca.
Other towns to consider are Arraiolos (intricately cross-stitched rugs), Estremoz (whitewashed houses and a good market), Borba (a great place for antiquing) or the charming hilltop village of Monsaraz.
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