The university city of Coimbra


Coimbra, one of the major cities in Portugal, originally developed during the Roman period under the influence of the greater nearby town of Conimbriga which is now an important archaeological site of great interest with a museum to display the findings from the excavations. For more details of Conimbirga click here. Six of Portugal's Kings were born in Coimbra and between 1139 and 1256 it was the capital of Portugal. The Sé Velho, Coimbra's old cathedral was originally built in the 12th Century and is one of the best examples of Romanesque churches in Portugal. Coimbra is the oldest seat of learning in Portugal with a University founded in the late13th century which is one of the oldest in the world.

The visually interesting 12th Century Mosteiro de Santa Cruz has been added to at various times and within is the tomb of the first King of Portugal, Afonso Henriques. The 16th Century addition of the Claustro do Siléncio is a fine example of a Manueline cloister. Next door to the Convento da Santa Clara-a-Velho is a park dedicated to the enjoyment of smaller children. Here, all the most important buildings, monuments, and typical homes in Portugal have been reproduced in a model town.

The Sé Nova, Coimbra's new cathedral, was built at the turn of the 16th Century by the Jesuits to demonstrate their growing strength within the country. The 16th Century Museu Nacional Machado de Castro was formerly the Bishops Palace and is now the depository of some of Portugal's finest sculpture.

Two of Portugal's most revered Queens were temporary laid to rest in the 13th Century Mosteiro de Santa Clara-a-Velha. They were Santa Isabel and the tragically murdered Inês de Castro, the latter finally interred in Alcobaca. The Claustro de Santa Clara-a-Nova was constructed in the 17th Century to re-house the nuns from the often-flooded older Convent.

In the city there are many churches that are also worth visiting, especially from the 12th Century. Igreja de Santa Cruz is a church that was later altered in the 16th Century to its present fine example of Manueline carved architecture work. Coimbra also boasts the largest Botanical Garden in the country which covers 20 hectares.

The University buildings have, over time, been generally replaced and the main buildings tend to have been constructed or re-constructed in the early 18th Century. Within the student's library of Biblioteca Joanna there is an amazing collection of over 300,000 books dating from the 12th Century. In a tradition from the distant past, the students, by wearing colour ribbons which they attach to their gowns, indicate the faculty to which they belong. Every year in May when the academic year ends they ceremonially burn these ribbons and a enthusiastic celebration takes place. This event is called, "Queima das Fitas".

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