We went to Portugal several times - a couple of them just to enjoy the beaches and to eat the wonderful food in their restaurants. They were easy day trips, since Seville is not very far from the Portuguese border. The longest of the trips was to go to the Expo 98 in Lisbon.
Driving in Portugal turned out to be a rather hair raising experience more than once. People there drive with an "enthusiasm" that I had not run into before. There are many new highways being built so as to speed travel. They have certainly accomplished that! Although the speed limit was 120 kph, which we tried to stay reasonably close to, many times we were passed as though we were going backwards! The bridge in the picture is the bridge we crossed from Spain into Portugal. As you can see, it's design is quite modern and artistically appealing.
We didn't spend too much time in Lisbon at the Expo, because the "good" exhibits were quite crowded and the lines were just too long to waste time in. We wanted to go back and explore Evora... The picture is of the Expo 98 fairgrounds, from the vantage point of one of the cable cars that runs from one end of the fair to the other. The Vasco da Gama bridge in the background, is an impressive structure that is 17 km long , and is one of the largest public works projects in Europe in decades, that was completed in time for the Expo.
One exhibit, not as big and flashy as some of the main ones, that really caught our eye, was the one from Iceland. It was well done, and made it look like a really neat place to visit in the future.
When we drove across Portugal to get to the Expo in Lisbon, we happened upon a delightful town named Evora. Here I discovered that Portugal also has Roman ruins as well. In Evora the temple to the goddess Diana was a good example of this. It seems like those Romans got just about everywhere in Europe.
Of all the towns we visited throughout Spain and Portugal, Evora stands out for several reasons. Aside from the wonderful hospitality and friendliness of the people, one thing that was notable was that the wall around the ancient town center was virtually complete. Although every town had, at one time in the past, a wall around it to protect it from invaders, in all other places we visited, there were usually only small segments of the wall still standing, the missing parts having been taken down when the city or town grew too large to fit inside the wall.
In older towns, often the church is the tallest building in the town. I'm not sure why, but the churches often seem to be built on one of the higher pieces of land in the town. Church buildings are often very complex, with passageways throughout. Sometimes there is a means to get on the roof, where due to the vantage point, it is possible to see for miles. Althought the roofs are not flat, for drainage purposes I suppose, they often have sections that function as observation decks. Here we get an excellent view, over the tile roofed houses of the town, of the surrounding countryside.
Another remarkable item there was the Capella dos Osos (Chapel of Bones), a chapel in one of the churches that was constructed using the bones of about 5,000 people. A rather strange experience, in the least, was to see skulls, ribs and arm and leg bones imbedded in the mortar. It was constructed by a monk to remind people of the evanescent nature of life! It was rather dark, so my camera didn't get a good shot, but those "lumps" in the wall behind the statue are bones.
On the way back to Spain from Evora, we drove to several locations out in the countryside that had menhirs or dolmens. These stones are supposed to be thousands of years old, and like Stonehenge, nobody really knows what they signify. Sometimes it took a little extra effort to find them because they were usually well off the beaten track, out in a field not viewable from the road. The Michelin guide averred that they were there, so we persisted, often driving down long, bumpy and dusty paths until we found them.
The pictures here show the ones that were in the best shape. One is a large circle of stones 75 to 100 feet in diameter with an upright megalith in the approximate center.
For some reason people had broken the top slabs of some of the dolmens... I can't imagine how or why... Some of these stone slabs were a foot and a half thick and over 10 feet across. How do you break something that large? It was interesting to see archaeological artifacts that old. It was a first for me.
The little chapel pictured is actually built from a dolmen. If you look carefully in the picture, you can see the large stone slabs that made up the original dolmen, uprights, with a slab across the top (just under and in front of the tile roof). The spaces between the stones (particularly evident over the doorway) were later filled in with mortar so as to fully enclose the interior space defined by the original stone slabs, and then the structure was white-washed. That's the way many things often are around these parts... people have been building things for so long that many newer constructions contain materials salvaged from something that had been built earlier.