Portugal’s ancient capital.jpg

Portugal’s ancient capital

By PAULO SILVESTRE [email protected]

In this travel feature, Paulo Silvestre takes readers on a guided tour of the best places to visit in Portugal. Paulo provides inside information and useful tips to assist you in planning relaxing trips and enjoyable days out. You’ll discover the best of Portugal and enjoy celebrating its unique culture! Paulo holds a degree in Media Studies and his hobbies include playing in a band.

On the banks of the Mondego River, Coimbra was once capital of a rising Portuguese empire, an ancient centre of knowledge, poetry and arts.

The city of Coimbra is the third largest in Portugal with 150,000 inhabitants and it is the major city in the central area of the country. Coimbra, the first capital of Portugal, is the home of Coimbra University, one of the oldest and well known universities in Europe. It was founded in Lisbon in 1290 by King Dom Dinis and then transferred to Coimbra in 1537 by King João III. The old university structures are located on the top of a hill, which overlooks the city and the river. You enter the old part of the University through an iron gate with stone works from the XVII century in the Mannerist style. Through the gate is a massive patio, where you can see a big statue of João III. Near the gate you will see the long low palace wing with numerous rooms that are well worth a visit.

Prior to the first royals, the Romans colonised this area and their art is found in the Monastery of Santa Cruz, where St. Anthony lived and the first King of Portugal, Afonso Henriques, died. Roman art can also be found in the Old Cathedral, where students sing Coimbra Fado on the steps.

Old Cathedral.
Old Cathedral.

In Santa Clara-a-Velha, which dates back to Roman times as well, Inês de Castro lived with the children she had with Prince Pedro. It was here that she was murdered on the orders of King Afonso IV, giving rise to the saddest and everlasting love story written in Portuguese.

Renaissance and the final relocation of the university to Coimbra in 1537 brought new artistic freedom to the city. This can be seen in the beautiful Manueline doorway of the university chapel and the splendid ancient door within the walls of the Old Cathedral.

The Baroque style also left its mark on the extravagant university library. On its gilded shelves are 250,000 books. The wood work is really fascinating.

From the top of its 178 steps, the old university clock tower still bells out the hours. The University’s eighteen-century clock stands in the right hand corner of the courtyard. Next to it is a double staircase leading to other parts of the university.

University old clock.
University old clock.

If you want to visit the city at the end of April or the beginning of May it is well worth seeing the students’ party Queima das Fitas, with all the students singing Fado and burning their ribbons at the end of the school year. It is the largest student party in Europe with input from all 30,000 students of the university

An additional highlight in Coimbra is the Baixa. On the way there visit the old cathedral from the XII century with its typical Portuguese Romanesque style. The Baixa is the part of the city with mainly traditional shopping. It is full of narrow streets and packed shops, banks, churches, cafés, hotels and walks to breathe the air along the Mondego rivers’ banks.

Discover it!