Coimbra (about 160,000 inhabitants), is located in central-northern Portugal, about 170 km north of Lisbon, and 120 km south of Porto. Third city in Portugal after Lisbon and Porto, located on the right bank of the Mondego river, it is famous for its university, founded in 1290, one of the oldest in Europe.
Coimbra was founded by the Romans with the name of Aeminium. In the 8th century it was occupied by the Arabs, and was therefore taken over by the Christians in 1064. Between the 12th and 13th centuries, the city went through a very prosperous period, during which it was the capital of Portugal.
WHAT TO SEE: COIMBRA’S MAIN ATTRACTIONS
Coimbra is divided into two parts: the upper city, the oldest nucleus, and the lower city, the most modern nucleus. Characteristic of the city are the narrow and steep streets, paved with cobblestones, with medieval stairways and arches.
Our visit can start from the center of the lower town, the Largo da Portagem. This square is full of clubs, hotels and outdoor cafes, and is the access point to the old city. This is done through a pedestrian area that leads to Praça do Comercio, the ancient market place. Two churches overlook this square: that of São Bartolomeu (18th century) and that of São Tiago, with a beautiful Romanesque portal.
From Praça do Comercio, cross the arc de Almedina (13th century) and through a steep staircase (Escadas da Quebra Costas) we enter the center of the upper city. Here we have Sé Velha, the ancient cathedral built in the XII century, it is considered one of the most beautiful Romanesque cathedrals in Portugal. The interior, with three naves with barrel vaults, has an interesting Renaissance high altar.
To the left of the Escadas da Quebra Costas is the Rua Sobre Ribas, where the Manueline-style Sobre Ribes (1514), the Renaissance Casa dos Arco and the Collegio dos Orfaos are located, with a beautiful cloister.
In the ancient Episcopal palace, a beautiful building with a sixteenth-century loggia, worth seeing is the Museu Nacional Machado de Castro, with one of the most important collections of Portuguese sculpture of the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries.
THE ANCIENT UNIVERSITY OF COIMBRA
Continuing south we meet the Ancient University (Velha Universidade) founded in 1290 and a true symbol of the city. The building is accessed through the Main Gate (1638). Inside you should not miss a visit to the Sala das Capelas (the Aula Magna) decorated with azulejos and to the wonderful 18th century Joanina Library. Without doubt one of the most beautiful libraries in the world, in Baroque style with frescoed ceilings and walls, furnished with splendid inlaid furniture.
THE MONASTERY OF SANTA CRUZ
Leaving the upper city you reach the Mosteiro de Santa Cruz with its 16th century church. This is probably the most important monument in Coimbra. Note the Manueline-style facade, the azulejos inside, the tombs of the first two kings of Portugal (Afonso I and Sancho I) and the Manueline-style cloister.
From here the visit continues along the renaissance rua da Sofia, where are the church of Carmo (16th century) and the Palace of Justice (16th century). This leads to the Santa Clara bridge where the Convent of Santa Clara-a-Velha is located (13th century). A little further on is the new Convent of Santa Clara (17th century), from here you can enjoy a particularly striking view of the river and the historic center of the city.
An interesting structure to see, near the university, is the São Sebastiao aqueduct. This aqueduct was built by the Italian Filippo Terzio in the 16th century on the ruins of a Roman aqueduct. Next to it is the Jardim Botanico founded by the Marques de Pombal where you can admire countless tropical plants. The Sé Nova (the new 17th century cathedral), also near the University, was originally the church of the Jesuit College (Colégio das Onze Mil Virgens). Note the façade in a mixed mannerist (lower part) and baroque (upper part) style.
In the surroundings of Coimbra (15 km south) do not miss a visit to the Roman ruins of ancient Conimbriga. Where remains of houses, walls, aqueduct and thermal baths are visible. Finally, 30 km from Coimbra, there is the beautiful fortified village of Montemor-o-Velho with a beautiful 11th century city wall.
The UNESCO page dedicated to the ancient University of Coimbra.