|Évora, World Heritage|
It is amazing to think that such beauty was not there to start with. The actual place was there, with its hill, its headland, its open elevation from where the eye sweeps over a horizon so vast it seems it is being pushed to infinity by the very plain itself. Although there was a brook flowing nearby, the kind that has always attracted and allowed the settlement of human beings, with an offer of food and refreshment for their bodies, this hill that would one day be given the magical name of Évora was, for countless years, able only to provide humbly for those in its vicinity - from look-out point for shepherds to landmark for travellers who had lost their way. However, the destiny of a place is like a sealed letter waiting for the single gesture that some day will make its contents known. We do not know who, or whose hand it might have been, that first placed one stone upon another at the foot of the headland to build a shelter for the living or a home for the dead. We will never know. The first men and women who chose to live on Évora's hill did not have an ornate silver coffer containing records of the foundation of a city that was yet to be, but if we know how to look for it, the memory of their passage through this part of the world is as tangible as the dome of the cathedral that can be seen from the corner of so many of these streets. Traces of those primitive women and men still linger today, in a puff of fine dust, a notch on the oldest of all the stones, a weary sigh captured by the breeze back then and released again by Évora whenever the winds change. It is generally agreed that history is only truly history once it has been written down, but the true history of Évora's hill and its surroundings, the history that no one wrote down but that is nonetheless significant, that illegible history written on the edge of time, is the deepest foundation on which the city has been built, destroyed and built again. Until today.
When it is spoken or when we stop to listen to it, the actual place-name of Évora sounds, on our lips and to our ears, like the memory of an ancient voice. It was the Celtiberian people who named the place Évora, and it was referred to as Ebora Cerealis by Pliny the Elder in his Historia Naturalis, which bears witness to the fact that the plains beyond the Tagus were providing bread for at least ten centuries before the "ealentejanos"e (those who lived and still live beyond the Tagus) became Portuguese. It is said that it was the seat of a mythical Luso-Celtic kingdom, the kingdom of Astolpas, who was father-in-law to Viriato, and it is also said that it was later fortified by Sertório, but this is no more than a legend made up in the sixteenth century, when it was claimed that the Roman general had sited his capital city in this burgeoning locality. Even after Ebora was given the name Liberalitas Julia, it still remained Ebora, and when Julius Caesar or Vespasian determined that it should be called Jus Latim Verus, it is highly unlikely that the Eborenses [the name given to natives of Évora] should have consented to twisting their tongues round these names, instead of simply saying Ebora, as their grandfathers and great-great-grandfathers had done before them. A strange word, this. If it was indeed the Celtiberian people who named the city Ebora and if, in this case, the apparent etymological extraction is more than mere coincidence, then we must ask ourselves why the town should have been named after a word with a Latin root, since eborarid means the art of sculpting ivory, eborário is the artist who works with ivory, and ebóreo refers to objects made of ivory. Credit and gratitude are due, therefore, to that unknown prophet, the Celtiberian warlock who read into the future and was the first to know that a town called Évora would, in time, become as precious as ivory.
The Romans returned to their land, and of their civic and military constructions, the whims of fortune and shifts in strategy only allowed us to inherit a few stretches of perimeter wall and the temple known for no reason as the Temple of Diana; after the Romans came the Visigoths, then the Moors, both less fortunate in their building than the Romans, for apart from some remnants of walI, none of their constructions have survived to our days. Finally, after more than four hundred years of Moorish occupation arrived people who were beginning to be Portuguese, and the history of Évora, the town we have before our very eyes, began - the Évora which has miraculously survived disasters and turmoil, invasions and plunders, the whims and swings of taste, the selfishness, the pride, the depravations both ancient and modern. The old ivory of which Évora is made can withstand anything.
Évora's uniqueness must not be sought, therefore, in its churches or in its palaces. There is no dearth of palaces and churches throughout the world, many of them without doubt of greater beauty and lavishness than those built here by the creative design and constructive talent of generations of Portuguese. Évora could still have the cathedral, and yet not be Évora. A complete description of all the town's monuments could be put forward for universal approval, and still Évora would not be Évora; Săo Francisco and Săo Brás, the Palace of Dom Manuel and the Church of Graça and Lóios and the Roman temple, the Água da Prata [Silver Water] Aqueduct and the Seminário Maior [Great Seminary], such places could be listed exhaustively, their architectural and artistic merits lovingly described in minute detail, and even then this would not be Évora. There are towns that are famous mainly for the material splendours that time has endowed them with, whereas Évora would stillbethe Évora we know so well even if a malevolent conjuring trick were to make the town's most obvious attractions disappear overnight, leaving it stripped down to its streets and courtyards, its squares and cobbled paths, its dead ends and alleyways, its arcades, its terraces. Left with its façades laid bare, its crystal clear fountains, the secret of its doors.
For Évora is mainly a state of mind, the kind that throughout history so often defends the place of the past without allowing it to encroach on the space that rightfully belongs to the present, as though the town had contemplated itself with the same intensity that was needed to scan its horizons, and had understood as a result that there is only one way of ensuring perpetuity in the face of the precarious nature of human existence and human construction: to hold on to the thread of history and, grasping it firmly, to walk boldly towards the future. Évora thrives because so do its root.
JOSÉ SARAMAGO, In Évora, Património da Humanidade