Thursday, May 5, 2011


Coimbra is one of my absolute favorite Portuguese cities. It houses Portugal's oldest and one of Europe's oldest universities, the Universidade de Coimbra, around which the city has grown. The fact that the university has long been the lifeline of the city (it was founded in the year 1290) is visible in the vibrant student culture and the general feeling of intellectual superiority that the city breathes. The Coimbra accent (or lack thereof) is considered by many to be the most beautiful in the country, and the downtown (baixa) area is a mess of old, charming maze-like streets that beg for you to get lost in them.

Coimbra is an old city that has passed from the hands of the Romans to the Arabs to the Kingdom of León until it was finally claimed for Portugal. After Dom Afonso Henriques, the first king of Portugal, declared Portugal's independence, he moved the capital of Portugal from Guimarães to Coimbra, and it stayed the capital until 1255 when it was moved to its current location (Lisbon).

That first king and his son, Dom Sancho I, are buried in Coimbra in the Igreja de Santa Cruz. You can see their tombs for an entry fee of 3 Euro or 1.50 Euro for students and +65.

If you visit Coimbra at the start of the school year you can see the students celebrating Latada, which is a week-long party welcoming (and often hazing, or praxe) new students, and if you visit during May you can see a similar week-long party called Queima, which celebrates the graduation of the seniors. Both involve lots of drinking. Lots and lots. But there are also numerous other traditional practices that also take place, that maybe an outsider might be lucky enough to see if he is in the right place at the right time.

Sé Velha, the old cathedral. Coimbra is unique in that it has two cathedrals.

Sé Velha. Construction of the old cathedral began in 1139, shortly after Portugal declared independence.

Interior of Sé Velha.

Sé Nova, the new cathedral. It is huge and very new-looking inside. It was built in 1598 by the Jesuits.

A big bear by the Mondego River!

Two Repúblicas, or Republics, which are essentially Portuguese fraternities. They began in Coimbra, which has by far the most Repúblicas, but Lisbon now also has a few and there is one in Porto. They have funny names, like the ones pictured above, such as "Republic of the Ghosts" and "Royal Republic of Rás-Te-parta" (which, in my understanding, is a joke on the phrase "raios te parta", literally meaning "may lighting bolts split you" which is basically a way to say "go to hell").

An arch in the old city wall.

Some student art and motorcycles.

Igreja de Santa Cruz.

The cloister of the Igreja de Santa Cruz.

Interior of the Igreja de Santa Cruz.

The tomb of Dom Afonso Henriques, the first king of Portugal, in the Igreja de Santa Cruz.

Monday, May 2, 2011


Santarém is the capital of the District of Santarém, in the region of Ribatejo (meaning "above the Tejo", or Tagus in English, River), located slightly south of the center of Portugal. It is a very old city, conquered by Dom Afonso Henriques in 1147 CE but there is evidence that people lived in the area since over 1000 years prior to that date. It is known as the "Gothic Capital" of Portugal, although personally I didn't find the city to have an overwhelmingly Gothic feel to it although there were a few remnants of what it must have been like before.

A view of the Tagus River from the Porta do Sol ("door of the sun"), now a garden surrounded by some of the old city walls (Muralhas da cidade) and which marks one of the seven entrances to the medieval castle.

The garden of the Porta do Sol.

Igreja de São João de Alporão (Church of Saint John of Alporão). Built in the 7th century.

A quiet city street in the city center of Santarém. I visited on a Sunday so practically nothing was open. Normally this is a busy commercial area.

The beautiful Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Conceição do Colégio dos Jesuítas (Church of Our Lady of the Conception of the College of the Jesuits), built in the 17th century.

Igreja da Misericórdia de Santarém, built in the middle of the 16th century.

Door of the Igreja de Santa Maria de Marvila, believed to have been built over the site of an old Islamic mosque before the 12th century. It has had much architectural intervention over the course of history, the latest in the middle of the 20th century.

I didn't get a chance to go to any restaurants in Santarém, but there was a nice-looking place at inside the Porta do Sol garden.