Évora City Walls
Hegira 301–302 / AD 913–14
The integration of the Roman town of Ebora into the political reality of al-Andalus did not mean that major changes were made to its social make-up and, above all, to the components of its urban fabric – some of which are still visible today. But the Ebora of the beginning of the AH 2nd / AD 8th century did go through changes that are still difficult to evaluate, in the late Roman Empire and Visigoth periods. Among the constructions built at that time is the wall known as the 'Roman Wall', which is superimposed on Roman houses and in which an irregular opus quadratum (construction technique using rectangular blocks) predominates.
In the chronicles of the Islamic period there is no information to indicate an expansion of the kind that would lead to the replacement of the wall inherited from the previous period. When the town of Évora (Yâbura) was attacked in AH 301/ AD 913 by troops commanded by the future Ordonho II of León it is that wall that they encountered before them. The detailed description by the historian Ibn Hayyan tells us that the Leonese soldiers encountered a low wall, with no parapet or merlons and which seemed to have been recently patched; there were several mounds of rubbish on the outside which the attackers used to reach the top of the wall.
The defeat and massacre suffered by the Islamicised population of Yâbura, which was left uninhabited, led to the rebel family which controlled the region from Badajoz, the Banu Jilliqi, deciding to take measures: initially they knocked down the walls 'to the base' so that the Berbers of the surrounding region could not settle inside them and, after deciding to hand them over to a Muwalladun (Muladi) family traditionally allied with them, began to rebuild the walls the following year. The wall was reconstructed and the buildings of the town restored. The Banu Jilliqi of Badajoz supplied men and material for this reconstruction and although it was not completed, an analysis of this wall suggests that the rebuilt part followed, for most of its perimeter, the Late Roman wall.
From what we know so far, the existing signs point to a restoration – with a style of stonework not very different from the aforementioned opus and with similarities with constructions in other parts of al-Andalus region – dated to the periods of the Emirs and Caliphs. The use of quadrangular towers is maintained, making use of earlier foundations and a moat must have been defined around it, which has been revealed in archaeological excavations, and in its individual toponymy, it still conserves, for the outer surrounding part of this wall the designation – already existing in medieval texts – of Alcárcova.
The events of AH 301/ AD 913 had repercussions throughout the region. The care taken in reconstructing the walls of Évora was accompanied by a campaign of work to strengthen the fortifications of the mid-Guadiana region and by the construction of other entirely new fortifications. From then on Yâbura began a phase of ascent and this walled perimeter (almost 1,100 metres long and surrounding an area of 8 hectares) was conserved throughout the Islamic period and was used until the AD 8th / AH 14th century.
The Islamic wall at Évora is approximately 1,100m long and encloses an area totalling 10 hectares. It dates back to the early AH 4th / AD 10th century when the entire enclosure was rebuilt following an attack on the town by the future King Ordonho II. The rebuilding work reused the existing foundations and continued to employ quadrangular towers. It would have been surrounded by a ditch, which is still known today as the Alcarcova.
The most significant part of this wall can be seen beside the Condes de Basto Palace.
Excavations carried out in Rua de Burgos have revealed that here the walls are the base of, and traverse, houses from the Roman period. In the area of the Citadel excavations have been carried out which reveal a moat filled with materials dating from after the 8th / 14th century. The chronicle of Ibn Hayyan describes in great detail: (1) the condition of the wall in 301 / 913; (2) the destruction of the wall carried out shortly afterwards to avoid unwanted occupation; (3) the reconstruction of the wall carried out in 302 / 914 with builders from Badajoz.
Hayyan, Ibn, Crónica del Califa Abdarrahman III An-Nasir Entre los Años 912 y 942 (al-Muqtabis V), trans. notes and indexes by M. J. Viguera and F. Corriente, Saragoça, 1981, pp.81–4 and 88–91.
Lima, Miguel Pedroso, O Recinto Amuralhado de Évora, Lisbon, 1996.
Picard, Ch., Le Portugal Musulman (VIIIe–XIIIe siècle): L'Occident d'al-Andalus sous Domination islamique, Paris, 2000, pp.197–9.
Sidarus, A. Y., “Um Texto Árabe do Século X Relativo à Nova Fundação de Évora e aos Movimentos Muladi e Berbere no Ocidente Andaluz”, A Cidade de Évora, Sep. bulletin 71–6, 1988–93, Évora, 1994, pp.7–37.
Fernando Branco Correia "Évora City Walls" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2018. 2018. http://www.discoverislamicart.org/database_item.php?id=monument;ISL;pt;Mon01;8;en
Prepared by: Fernando Branco CorreiaFernando Branco Correia
Fernando Branco Correia é arqueólogo e Assistente do Departamento de História da Universidade de Évora, onde lecciona as disciplinas de História e Cultura Islamo-Árabe, História de al-Andalus e Arqueologia Árabe-Islâmica, sendo ainda, nos últimos anos, responsável pelo Gabinete de Estudos Árabes (fundado por Adel Sidarus) da mesma universidade. É autor de trabalhos sobre Fortificações e História político-militar do al-Andalus, sobretudo da região entre os rios Tejo e Guadiana.
Translation by: Gilla Evans
Translation copyedited by: Monica Allen
MWNF Working Number: PT J