Évora, Portugal – February 20, 2012
On our drive home from Lisbon, Portugal, we stopped in the small town of Évora. The old village of Évora is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We wanted to stop for two reasons; to get an up-close look at the cork trees we saw from the highway and to see if we could buy a raw piece of cork.
We parked within about 200 meters of the central town plaza. We walked to the square and saw that it was already bustling with activity. On the north end of the plaza was St. Anthony’s Church, built in the mid-1500s. I went inside to take some photos, a little older man stopped me and said I had to buy a ticket to take pictures. The cost of the ticket was only 50 centimos (US$0.61)! I bought the ticket and took several photos.
A man crossing the street at the main plaza in old town Évora. St. Anthony’s Church is in the background.
When I came out of the church, I joined Leslie and Tyler at a table in the plaza for coffee. As I noted, there was already a great deal off activity. In one sunny corner of the square were numerous older men. They were all talking up a storm. Not far from them was a vendor selling roasted chestnuts.
After our coffee, we walked along a small side street toward the cathedral. Along the way, we were able to buy a piece of raw cork. It looks like it had been over a knot in the tree, so it is sort of in the shape of a shallow bowl. When we arrived at the cathedral, we found it to be awe-inspiring for a structure built in the 1100s.
Not too far from the cathedral are the ruins of the Roman temple to Diana, built in the 2nd century AD. The town supposedly grew up around this temple. There is also a well-preserved aqueduct. It is not as striking as the one in Segovia, but it was still a fantastic feat of engineering.
As we left the city, we stopped at a grove of cork trees beside the road. It was interesting to see and touch the trees. We tried to get a piece of the bark off, but we were not able. As neatly as the trees were cut and as tough as the bark is, we surmised there must be some unique tool designed for just that purpose. Where the cork bark was missing, the tree trunk was a dark coffee brown. I don’t know if that was natural or if they painted something on the tree to protect it after removing the bark.
A Portuguese man told us that once harvested, the bark from a cork tree takes nine years to grow back to a thickness worth harvesting. The numbers painted on the trees refer to the year in which the bark was last harvested. For example, in the photos I took, one of the trees had the number 1 painted on it, which stands for 2011. It will not be ready for harvest again until 2020. He also stated they do use a special knife to harvest the cork bark.
On the ground beneath the trees were numerous acorns. That somewhat supports my theory that the trees look very similar to oak trees.
We got back in the car and found ourselves back at home in four short hours!