Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Coimbra
Rich in tradition, the old University town of Coimbra lies halfway between Lisbon and Oporto in the hilly country of Beira Litoral. It is built on the right bank of the Rio Mondego, here skirting the chalk hills of the Serra de Lorvao.
The 18,000 or so Coimbra University students are very much a feature of life in the town. Bareheaded, they wear a long black robe (batina) under a black cape (capa), with facings of different colors for the various faculties. On the occasion of the Queima das Fitas, the examination celebrations held in the middle of May, these facings are ceremonially burned as part of a giant spectacle.
With its fine old buildings, many of them dating from the time of Manuel I, and many other art treasures Coimbra should be included in any visit to Portugal.
Archeological material found on the site carries the history of the town back to prehistoric times. It was known to the Romans as Aeminium, but later, having become the see of a bishop, it took the name of the nearby Roman town of Conimbriga (see Surroundings), which was destroyed by the Suevi in 468. The area fell into the hands of the Moors in the eighth C., but the town was temporarily won back in 872 and finally recovered by Fernando the Great of Castile in 1064. In the 12th C. Coimbra became capital of the new Portuguese kingdom. It lost this status to Lisbon in 1260, but was compensated by the foundation (1307-08) of the University which, with interruptions, was until 1911 the only university in Portugal and which became a major element in the town's cultural and intellectual life.
From the more modern Lower Town on the right bank of the Mondego steep lanes climb to the Upper Town, with the extensive buildings of the University, on a hill 100m/330ft above the river. On the left bank is the district of Santa Clara with two former convents and a miniature village.
A good starting point for a tour of the town is the Largo da Portagem, which is also where the tourist information center is located. The broad Avenida Emidio Navarro is resplendent with greenery. After enjoying the fine view of the town from the bridge opposite, the Ponte de Santa Clara over the Mondego, the best route is to stroll along the Rua Ferreira Borges/Rua Visconde da Luz, Coimbra's main shopping street.