Coimbra – 8 Places You Must Photograph
Coimbra is a city and originaly known as “The Student City” and it’s municipality in Portugal. The population at the 2011 census has reached over 143,396, in an area of 319.40 square kilometres (123.3 sq mi). It’s also known to be the fourth-largest urban centre in Portugal (because we have to include Lisbon, Porto and Braga), it is the largest city of the district of Coimbra, the Centro region and the Baixo Mondego subregion. In 2015 around 460,000 people was known that live in the Região de Coimbra, with just about 19 municipalities and extending into an area 4,336 square kilometres (1,674 sq mi).
1. Mosteiro de Santa Clara-A-Velha
You can visit this sunken ruins of the Convent of Santa Clara-a-Velha, they are all what’s left of the 13th-century monastery. Built on the south side of the River Mondego, the King Dinis widow, Santa Isabel, has used this Convent as a retreat. Isabel had the opportunity to see the construction of a new church where she was buried after her death in 1336. Santa Clara had to be removed after a consistent flooding undermined the convent’s foundations. The building was abandoned in 1677, the sisters of the Convent decided to have a new building on higher ground. In 1696, the remains of Isabel herself were moved to this new Convent, the Convent of Santa Clara-a-Nova. Velha’s original Gothic church was, after several years, restored and visitors can now watch more about the fascinating history behind the convent and mull over archaeological finds unearthed from the silted ruins.
2. Mosteiro de Santa Clara-A-Nova
The Convent of Santa Clara-a-Nova, built between 1649 and 1677, replaced the monastery we talked about above, which had been flooded by the water from river and had to be abandoned. The new convent, built on drier and higher land at Monte da Esperança, still on the same side of the river, is now part of a military barracks, but it’s still possible to visit the shrine of Santa Isabel inside the Baroque church. You can visit the small military museum but the rest of the rooms are off limits to the general public..
3. University of Coimbra (Universidade de Coimbra)
The University of Coimbra was originally founded in Lisbon in 1290 by King Dinis, but, in 1537 was transferred to Coimbra, known as one of the oldest universities in Europe. It was partialy rebuilt in the 17th and 18th centuries in Baroque and neo-classical styles, this is the Old University where some of the most celebrated tourist attractions in Coimbra can be found. The stunning eye-opener that is the Biblioteca Joanina is reason enough to visit this venerable institution. The 18th-century library, named after its benefactor, João V, is a sumptuous feast of gilt and exotic wood and trompe-l’oeil decoration. The lacquered bookcases are lined with nearly 300,000 medieval books and manuscripts from all parts of Portugal. Another scene-stealer is the Capela de São Miguel. Architectural elements of this beautiful chapel date from 1517, but most of what you see today is 17th and 18th century including the fine azulejos (tiles) that embellish the walls of the nave and chancel. The Mannerist altarpiece dates from 1605. The chapel’s showpiece is an extraordinary Baroque organ lavished with gilded angels. Outside, a sweeping courtyard provides edifying views across the city; the bell tower is a cherished symbol of the university.
4. Igreja de Santa Cruz
Afonso Henriques and Sancho I, the first two kings of Portugal, are entombed in Santa Cruz church, which forms part of a monastery founded in 1131 by the canons of St. Augustine. The Romanesque church is noted for its Manueline façade attributed to Diogo Boitac, who was also responsible for designing the chapterhouse. In fact, Santa Cruz’s form has been chiseled out by some of the 16th century’s finest sculptors, noted exponents like Nicolau Chanterène and Jean de Rouen, whose carvings ornament the church’s Portal da Majestade. The extravagantly traced royal tombs are also said to be Chanterène’s handiwork. A sightseeing highlight is the serene Claustro do Silêncio, a double-tiered Manueline cloister featuring outstanding bas-reliefs in the southwest and northeast corners depicting Christ’s Passion. An elaborate Renaissance fountain provides a centerpiece water feature.
5. Arco de Almedina
Part of the original gateway to the old city, the Almedina Arch is a relic of Coimbra’s Moorish town walls (in Arabic medina means town). The oldest part of the structure dates from around the 9th century and originally consisted of a pair of turrets linked by an arch. It was greatly altered and restored in the 12th century to include the Torre de Anto, built above the arch replete with Renaissance windows. Today, the tower houses the Centre of the Walled City interpretation center that recounts the history of the defensive walls that once surrounded Coimbra. An annex provides space for temporary exhibitions and talks on related themes.
6. Old Cathedral (Sé Velha)
The Old Cathedral is more akin to a fort such is its solid, almost oppressive appearance – all crenelated walls, narrow window-slits, and heavy-set veneer. In fact, this is one of the finest examples of Romanesque architecture in Portugal. Consecrated in 1184, King Sancho I was crowned here shortly afterwards when Coimbra was the nation’s capital. There are flourishes of extravagance relieving the sombre effect of the exterior: the elegant Renaissance Porta Especiosa on the north side of the church is the most obvious example. Otherwise, tourists need to venture inside to appreciate more ostentatious design signatures such as the gilded, late Gothic high altar, which dates from 1498. The fancy retable, which depicts the birth of Christ and the Assumption, is the work of Flemish master wood-carvers, Olivier de Gand and Jean d’Ypres. Incidentally, the square in front of the Old Cathedral is where João I was proclaimed king in 1385.
7. New Cathedral (Sé Nova)
The fussy tapered façade of the New Cathedral contrasts starkly with its older, more conservative namesake. But it can hardly be described as contemporary; this church was founded by the Jesuits in 1598 and consecrated in 1640. The exuberance of the exterior is equaled by the opulence of the interior – the high altar of gold filigree standing majestically in the 17th-century chancel is a standout feature, the pair of 18th-century organs positioned either side lending form and function. Actually, there is a bit of the old in the new: the octagonal font and the choir stalls once belonged in the Sé Velha.
8. Botanical Garden (Jardim Botânico)
The city’s botanical gardens are the most expansive in Portugal. Integrated into the University of Coimbra’s faculty of natural history, they were created by the Marquês de Pombal during the reform of the university in 1773. Landscaped on valley terraces near the river, the entrance to the verdant 20-hectare estate lies under the shadow of the 16th-century aqueduct of São Sebastião. The exuberant and exotic collection of flora numbers some 1,200 plants and trees from around the world. Several greenhouses, one dating from 1856, are used for cultivating sub-tropical plant and flower species. The gardens feature several ponds and a central fountain and, hidden amongst dense vegetation, the tiny 19th-century Capela de São Bento.
9. Portugal dos Pequenitos
Grown ups are welcome at this imaginative theme park, the name of which translates as “the little ones of Portugal”. That’s because everything here is a world in miniature, a thoroughly amusing exhibition of scaled-down versions of Portugal’s most cherished national monuments, finest buildings, and traditional villages: Coimbra is represented by its old university. There are also buildings from former colonies (the park was established in 1940). A learning-through-play park basically intended for children, adults will also have fun exploring this Lilliputian landscape. Within the grounds are three museums specializing in furniture, traditional costume, and naval artifacts.
You have several other things, like Conímbriga (Roman Ruines), Praça do Comércio, Jardins Quinta das Lágrimas and Machado de Castro National Museum.