Coimbra Tourist Attractions

CoimbraCoimbra

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.

Praça do Comércio

To the west of the Rua Visconde da Luz lies the Praça do Comércio, the town's old market place. Nowadays one of the most impressive squares in Portugal, it is well worth lingering in a street cafe and looking at the facades of the nearby houses which have long been home to artisans and craftworkers.

Sao Tiago

At the northern end of the Praça do Comércio stands the Romanesque church of Sao Tiago, founded by Fernando the Great in the 11th C. in thanksgiving for the reconquest of the town from the Moors. The church has a plain timber ceiling.

Convento de Santa Cruz

The Rua Eduardo Coelho, on the north side of the Praça do Comércio, leads eventually to the Praça 8 de Maio, focal point of life in the town. On the east side of the square is the Convento de Santa Cruz. This former Augustinian monastery was founded in 1131 and much altered and enlarged in later centuries. Fundamental innovation work was carried out in the 15th/16th C. in the reign of Manuel I by his celebrated architect Boytaca, and after his death by Nicolas de Chantarène.
Address: Praça 8 de Maio, Portugal

Convento de Santa Cruz - South Wing

The south wing of the Convento de Santa Cruz contains the aisleless convent church (1131-32), which has a Manueline facade with rich sculptural decoration, and a vaulted interior with side chapels. On the north wall is a magnificent pulpit (1522), a relic of the rich furnishings which are referred to in historical documents. In the Gallery are fine 16th C. stalls, the only ones of that period in Portugal, carved with representations of Vasco da Gama's voyages and scenes from Camoes' "Lusiads".

Convento de Santa Cruz - Sacristy

In the Sacristy, entered from the right hand side of the Convento de Santa Cruz and a Renaissance structure of 1622 with coffered barrel vaulting and polychrome azulejo decoration on the walls, are a number of notable pictures by Portuguese artists ("Pentecost" by Cristóvao de Figueiredo; "Calvary" by Sao Bento).

Convento de Santa Cruz - Choir

In the Choir, reached through the Sacristy, are the tombs (mainly in late Gothic style) of the first Portuguese kings; they were commissioned by Manuel I from Nicolas de Chanterène: on the left the recumbent figure of Afonso I Henriques (1139-85), on the right Sancho I (1185-1211), each surrounded by seven saints.

Convento de Santa Cruz - Claustro do Silêncio

Also reached from the Sacristy, via the Chapterhouse, is the picturesque Claustro do Silêncio (16th C.), a two story Manueline cloister with three magnificent reliefs (scenes from the Passion) in the southwest and northeast corners and on the south side, and in the center a beautiful Renaissance fountain.

Jardim da Manga

Adjoining the monastery complex to the east is the Jardim da Manga, all that is left of a second, later cloister built by Joao III according to a design drawn on his sleeve, hence the name "Manga". The domed building in the center is surrounded by water and four small round chapels, to which access used to be by drawbridge only. Once these were raised there was nothing to disturb the monks' meditation.
Address: Rua Olímpio Nicolau Rui Fernandes, Jardim da Manga, Portugal

Town Hall

The whole of the north wing of the Convento de Santa Cruz is now occupied by the town hall, the Câmara Municipal.

Arco de Almedina

The Upper Town is reached on foot by turning south down the Rua Visconde da Luz and then turning left, beside number 75, through the Arco de Almedina. The arch is a relic of the Moorish town walls. The Gothic two story tower built over it in the 15th C. was occupied by a municipal court in the 16th C. and now houses a Museum of Ethnography.
Arco de Almedina was named in the period when Portugal was ruled by arabs in the 11th C.

Paco de Sobre-Ripas

North of the Arco de Almedina in the Rua de Sobre-Ripas is the 16th C. palace of the same name which has a fine Manueline portal.

Old Cathedral

A stepped lane leads up to Sé Velha, the old cathedral, a fortress-like structure built in the reign of Afonso I Henriques (12th C.), with a plain exterior, crenellated walls and a massive Romanesque west doorway. Only the Porta Especiosa, a richly decorated early Renaissance doorway on the north side of the church, relieves the sombre effect of the exterior.
The Romanesque interior, with three aisles, is strikingly impressive. The most notable features are a number of fine tombs, including that of Bishop Almeida (16th C.); the large Late Gothic high altar, with representations of the Assumption by two Flemish masters, Oliver of Ghent and John of Ypres; and the Renaissance font (16th C.). From the south aisle a flight of steps leads up to the Early Gothic cloister (13th C.).
In the square in front of the Old Cathedral Dom Joao was proclaimed King of Portugal in 1385.
Address: Largo da Sé Velha, 3000-306 Coimbra, Portugal
Coimbra - Old Cathedral - Floor plan map Coimbra - Old Cathedral Map

New Cathedral

From the north side of the Old Cathedral in Coimbra the steep Rua do Cabido goes up to the Largo da Feira, which has been considerably enlarged in recent years. On the north side of the square stands the Sé Nova, the new cathedral. Originally constructed for the Jesuits, building was begun in the late 16th C. but work continued well into the 17th C. and, with the banishment of the Jesuits, it was raised to cathedral status in 1772. It has a handsome Early Baroque facade and, inside, barrel vaulting, Baroque altars and a 17th C. organ.
Address: Antigo Largo da Feira, 3000-213 Coimbra, Portugal

Museu Nacional de Machado de Castro

On the west side of the Largo da Feira, in the former Bishop's Palace (rebuilt in the late 16th C.) and in the church of Sao Joao, is the Museu Nacional de Machado de Castro, named after the Coimbra-born sculptor Machado de Castro (1736-1828) and containing Roman material from excavations, medieval sarcophaguses, Romanesque and Gothic sculpture in stone and wood, goldsmiths' work, furniture, tapestries, porcelain, paintings of the 16th-18th C. (including some notable Flemish pictures), a special section devoted to work by modern Portuguese painters and a department of religious art.
From the double loggia in the beautiful courtyard there is a very fine view of the town.
Address: Rua António José de Almeida, 208, 3000-042 Coimbra, Portugal

Modern University Buildings

To the south of the Largo da Feira, within the area once occupied by the castle, are the imposing modern buildings of the University; to the east the Faculty of Medicine, adjoining it on the right the Faculty of Arts, with a small archeological museum, and the library (Biblioteca Geral).
The Universidade de Coimbra is one of the oldest educational establishments in Portugal.
Address: Paço das Escolas, 3004-531 Coimbra, Portugal

Old University

To the west, on the highest point of the upper town, where the royal palace (now represented only by a Manueline doorway) once stood, is the Old University, partly rebuilt in the 17th and 18th C., with the earlier Porta Férrea ("iron gate", 1634) leading into the fine courtyard. Enclosed on three sides by buildings, it has a terrace on the south side from which there is a magnificent view.
On the north side is the actual Old University building, the Colégio, with the Chancellery and the Law Faculty, and, up flights of steps, the "Via Latina" colonnade where once only Latin was allowed to be spoken. On the east side of the courtyard is the observatory (Observatório) and on the west the University Church, built in 1517-52 as the palace chapel, with a 33m/110ft high tower (1733) and an adjacent small museum of sacred art.
Address: Universidade de Coimbra, Largo da Porta Férrea, Portugal

Old Library

Adjoining the church is the sumptuous Old Library, built 1716-23 on the model of the Court Library in Vienna (Joao V's queen, Ana Maria, being Austrian). It has ceiling and wall paintings by António Simoes Ribeiro and valuable furniture with intarsia decoration. Its 300,000 books and 3,000 medieval manuscripts come from all parts of Portugal and since 1910 can only be viewed with a special permit.

Jardim Botânico

Go through the Porta Férrea and straight on to the Praça de Dom Dinis then down the steps and under the 16th C. aqueduct to arrive at the entrance to the Jardim Botânico, the botanic gardens, commissioned by Marquês de Pombal and laid out in terraces on the slopes of a side valley of the Mondego, with large numbers of subtropical plants.

Penedo da Saudade

Northeast of the Jardim Botânico is Penedo da Saudade, traditionally a meeting place for the students but above all a superb viewpoint.

Convento de Santa Clara-a-Velha

On the left bank of the Mondego, to the left of the Lisbon road, are the partly sunken ruins of the Gothic Convent of Santa Clara-a-Velha, founded in 1286, which has gradually been destroyed by the flooding of the river. Here the saintly Queen Isabel (1271-1336) spent the last ten years of her life and here she was buried, as was the murdered Inês de Castro, Pedro I's secret bride. Their remains were moved elsewhere after the destruction of the convent.

Quinta das Lágrimas

About 1km/0.5mi east of the Convento de Santa Clara-a-Velha along the Rua António Augusto Gonçalves is Quinta das Lágrimas, the "villa of tears", where Inês de Castro is said to have been murdered in 1355. The Fonte dos Amores, the "lovers' fountain", in the park recalls her tragic love story.

Portugal dos Pequenitos Parque

Opposite the old Santa Clara Convent can be found Portugal dos Pequenitos, a miniature village established in 1940, with reproductions of the country's most important buildings and of typical homes and buildings from the former colonies. The garden setting makes a visit here enjoyable for adults as well as children.
Address: Santa Clara, Portugal

Convento de Santa Clara-a-Nova

Since the old Convent of Santa Clara was almost completely destroyed in the 17th C. a new convent, the Convento de Santa-Clara-a-Nova, was built between 1649 and 1696 to the right on the Monte da Esperança. It is possible to visit the convent church, cloister and the rooms containing a small military museum. The other buildings now serve as a barracks. The Renaissance convent church is dedicated to St Isabel, wife of King Dinis and Coimbra's patron saint, and contains her silver shrine (1614) which was originally in the old convent and was transferred here to its current position in the choir by Pedro II at the end of the 17th C. St Isabel's empty stone sarcophagus is also worth seeing. Dating from the early 14th C. it is borne on six crouching lions, with the recumbent figure of the queen dressed in the simple habit of the Poor Clares but wearing a crown to show her rank.
Address: Calçada de Santa Isabel, Portugal

Surroundings

ConimbrigaConimbriga

Conimbriga

Only 2km/1.25mi southeast of Condeixa lies the extensive site of the Roman town of Conimbriga, founded in the second century B.C. and destroyed by the Suevi in A.D. 468. Although still being excavated, it is already clear that this settlement, to which present day Coimbra owes its name, constitutes the largest Roman site in Portugal.
The town was secured by a wall about 2km/1.25mi long, and some of it, dating from the A.D. third century, still remains. The many ruins of houses, baths and fountains, and their mosaics, some of which are quite well preserved, are testimony to the wealth and good taste of Conimbriga's inhabitants. The third century "House of Fountains" is especially well worth seeing. The mosaics depict hunting scenes, dolphins and Perseus with the head of Medusa (it may be possible to persuade the attendant to turn on the fountains which date from Roman times).
Conimbriga - Roman Site Map Conimbriga - Roman Site Map

Museu Monográfico

In the Museu Monográfico adjoining the site is displayed material recovered by the excavators (mosaics, pottery, marble busts, a colossal head of Augustus, etc.).
Official site: www.conimbriga.pt
Address: Conímbriga, 3150-220 Condeixa-a-Velha, Portugal

Montemor o Velho, Portugal

The little town of Montemor o Velho (Altitude: 51m/167ft), about halfway between Figueira da Foz and Coimbra, on a hill above the right bank of the Mondego, was of importance during the Middle Ages as an outpost defending the approach to Coimbra against the Moors advancing from Estremadura. The local economy is mainly given over to agriculture, with rice the main crop. Montemor o Velho is the birthplace of the navigator Cavaleiro Diogo de Azambuja (1432-1518), the writer and world traveler Fernao Mendes Pinto (c. 1510-83), and the poet Jorge de Montemor (1520-61).

Castelo

Above the town are the forbidding ruins of its massive castle, at one time amongst Portugal's strategically most important fortresses. Nothing remains of the original castle, first mentioned in 716 when occupied by the Moors. The existing ruins date from the 11th and 12th C. and are enclosed within a double circuit of walls, oval in plan, with imposing towers and battlements. From the top of the towers, some of which can be climbed, there is a superb view over the surrounding countryside. Within the walls is the Manueline church of Santa Maria de Alcáçova (16th C.) by the famous architect Boytaca, with a beautiful wooden ceiling, azulejo decoration in 16th C. Moorish style and a double font.

Nossa Senhora dos Anjos

In the romantic little town itself is the noteworthy Manueline church of Nossa Senhora dos Anjos (Our Lady of the Angels), originally a monastic church. The real treasure lies in the spacious interior which holds Renaissance sculpture of the Coimbra school, including the magnificent sarcophagus of Diogo de Azambuja, carved during his lifetime by Diogo Pires o Moço.
Address: Largo dos Anjos, Portugal
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