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.

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