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Évora’s Roman temple unveiled after renovation

EvoraTempleThe Roman temple in Évora today started to have its scaffolding removed after a €50,000 conservation project.

The Regional Directorate of Culture for the Alentejo announced the completion of the work which has taken four months and will leave the Temple of Diana* in a secure state.

Rafael Alfenim, the archaeologist responsible for the project said the work, financed by the Ministry of Culture, “solved the most critical problems,” namely the risk of fragments falling from the ancient structure. The monument had been under scrutiny since June 2017 with a report indicating that fragments of the structure had been falling off.

In August this year, the regional director of culture, Ana Paula Amendoeira, said, “The intervention is surgical and complex, but it is not very expensive,” adding that the investment in the conservation and restoration project for the monument, “won’t be more than €50,000.”

In addition to conservation and restoration, the 2,000-year-old monument was photographed and mapped to make future restoration easier as any sections suffering damage can be identified with great accuracy.

“The structure is not so much of a problem and has more seismic resistance than expected,” said Alfenim, adding that it has been possible to replace two missing pieces that had been in storage at Évora’s Frei Manuel do Cenáculo National Museum.

The Roman Temple of Évora, dating from the first century AD, is unique in Portugal and one of the most remarkable in the Iberian Peninsula. It is a national monument and is part of the classification of the city’s historic centre as a World Heritage site by the UNESCO.

The temple represents one of the most significant landmarks relating to the Roman and Lusitanian civilizations of Évora and in Portuguese territory.

The temple is believed to have been constructed around the first century A.D., in honour of Augustus, who was venerated as a god during and after his rule. The temple was built in the main public square (forum) of Évora, then called Liberalitas Iulia. During the 2nd and 3rd centuries, from the traditionally accepted chronology, the temple was part of a radical redefinition of the urban city, when religious veneration and administrative polity were oriented around the central space; the structure was modified around this time.

The temple was destroyed during the 5th century by invading Germanic peoples.

During the 14th century, the temple’s space served as a stronghouse for the town’s castle, while Fernão Lopes described the structure as being in a shambles. In 1467, King Afonso V of Portugal authorized Soeiro Mendes to remove stones from the structure for building purposes and for defence.

The ruins of the temple were incorporated into a tower of the Castle of Évora during the Middle Ages. The base, columns and architraves of the temple were kept embedded in the walls of the medieval building; the temple-turned-tower was used as a butcher’s shop from the 14th century until 1836; this new use of the temple structure helped preserve it from complete destruction.

In the 16th-century Manueline foral (‘charter’), the temple is represented, during a period when oral tradition suggested that the temple was attributed to Quintus Sertorius the famous Lusitanian general (and perpetuated by paladins André de Resende and Mendes de Vasconcelos).

* It was in the 17th century that references to the ‘Temple of Diana’, first made by Father Manuel Fialho, began to appear. Although the Roman temple of Évora is often called the Temple of Diana, any association with the Roman goddess of the hunt stems not from archaeology but from a legend created in the 17th century by the Portuguese priest. Other interpretations suggest that it might have been dedicated to Jupiter, the Roman equivalent of Zeus.

The first reconstitution of the temple’s appearance occurred in 1789 by James Murphy.

By the beginning of the 19th century, the structure still had the pydramidal merlons typical of the post-Reconquista Arabic structures around the colonnade. In 1836 it ceased being a butcher’s shop.

In 1840, Cunha Rivara, then director of the Public Library of Évora, obtained the right to dispose of the buildings annexed to the monument from the Portuguese Inquisition, which were annexed to the northern façade of the temple. These structures were demolished, and the first great archaeological excavation was undertaken. The resulting survey uncovered tanks of a primitive aqueduct. The stress on the space had begun to reach its limits by 1863, when the ceiling was partially destroyed; the tanks unearthed in the early excavation were also partially destroyed during expansion and landscaping of the main square.

By 1869, Augusto Filipe Simões proposed the urgent demolition of the medieval structures, defending the restoration of the primitive face of the Roman temple. Three years later, under the direction of Italian architect Giuseppe Cinatti, the vestiges of the medieval structures were finally removed and a program of restoration was carried out in line with the Romantic thinking of the period.

On 1 June 1992, the Portuguese Institute of Architectural Patrimony (Portuguese: Instituto Português do Património Arquitectónico) became responsible for conservancy of the monument. Following a 13 September 1992 publication (DR176, 2ª Série, Declaração de rectificação de anúncio n.º281/2011), a public tender was issued for proposals relative the Roman temple and area surrounding it.

Between 1989 and 1994, new excavations in the vicinity of the temple were completed under the supervision of the German archaeologist, Theodor Hauschild.

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