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Travel Europe Portugal The City of the students - Coimbra

The City of the students - Coimbra

Coimbra, Portugal, University hill looking over the river Mondego

Besides the popular city break destinations such as Lisbon and Porto, Portugal has a location that's perfect for a city - Coimbra. Namely the university city of Coimbra located on the Mondego River in central Portugal and on the third largest city in the country, after Lisbon and Porto. The city has much to offer, such as several important archaeological sites, historic buildings, museums, music and a legend about a forbidden love.

Although the city itself was not founded by the Romans, there are remains from the Roman period found in Coimbra (such as an aqueduct), because the Romans had on the current site to build a settlement (called Aeminium). After Portugal's first king (Afonso Henriques) captured the town from the Moors was even named the capital of Portugal. This would keep it until 1255 after the capital moved to Lisbon. The University of Coimbra, one of the oldest in Europe, was founded in 1290. However, it was founded in Lisbon in 1308 and only moved it to Coimbra, after a few moves in 1537 to settle permanently in Coimbra.

Besides being known as a university city of Coimbra, the city is also famous for its fado music. Fado is the traditional Portuguese folk music, which is traditionally sung by men only. Nowadays the more fado sung by women than by men. The Fado of Coimbra developed by nostalgic students. Of course there are also a number of restaurants and bars where you can listen to music.

Coimbra, because of its hill, divides the town into three parts: the old part (Alta) which is dominant; the low (Baixa) area which is at the foot of the hill and the third section is on the other side of the Mondego River.

The old part, which you enter through the "Almedina Bow"- an old gate of the medieval city wall dating from the ninth century -, there are many narrow and steeped but charming streets that take you to ancient times. Thus we have the Old Cathedral (Se Velha) dates from twelve century and was built in the Romanesque style (but also characterized by other styles such as Renaissance, Gothic and Moorish influences). A little further is the New Cathedral (Se Nova), but do not be fooled by the name, because even though this cathedral dates from the late sixteenth century and belonged to the Jesuits.
Also here is one of the major art museums in Portugal, the Machado de Castro Museum. In this museum are Roman ruins, medieval sarcophagi, Roman and Gothic sculpture in stone and wood, porcelain and paintings. Also here is the most important surviving Roman building in Portugal, namely Cryptoporticus, this was the foundation of the forum of the Roman settlement Aeminium (first century AD).

Additionally in this section at the top of the hill it's the University Complex with its various faculties and the famous University which is richly decorated with exotic wood and gold. Today it is a museum and has a collection of 300,000 books. The Botanical Gardens are among the most beautiful of Portugal and cover an area of less than 13 acres and were created by the Marquis of Pombal (mid eighteenth century). If you walk a little further, you will see the old Aqueduct (Aqueduct of St. Sebastian) that was built on the ancient Roman aqueduct.

The lower section lies at the foot of the hill near the river Mondego. Here's more commercial part of town, with shops and small boutiques and cozy restaurants. This section is the Santa Cruz Church - a National Pantheon - where the first King of Portugal (Afonso Henriques and his son) are buried. Along the river Mondego is a park with some entertainment and some nice restaurants from where you have a beautiful view over the river. Pendedo da Saudade (Stone of Nostalgie) is a garden with a beautiful view over the skyline of Coimbra and the stadium. According to one legend, this is the place where Prince Pedro grieved "the loss of his beloved Ines. This would be the place owes its name. Centuries later it was the perfect place for romantic meetings of students and this was the place where 'Coimbranese Fado' was born.

Across the river you will find some other nice places, like "Portugal dos Pequenitos" which is a little bit similar of Madurodam. You can see typical Portuguese houses, scale, and see the main monuments of Portugal and you will be against the former Portuguese colonies. This gives you a quick and comprehensive historical overview of Portugal. Also, the convent of Santa Clara a Velha (built in 1283 in a Gothic style) is worth visiting. Quinta das Lagrimas is a garden where the unfortunate and 'forbidden' love unfilled between Prince Pedro and Ines de Castro. Legend has it the place where Ines was killed by three men who were guided by Pedro's father (King Afonso IV). The fountain which is why it is the fountain of love, was called by her blood stained and is surrounded by old trees, medieval and neo-Gothic ruins and ponds.

Queima das Fitas is the largest and oldest academic festival in Portugal and is even one of the largest in Europe. It takes place at the end of the second semester (usually sometime in May) and lasts up to eight days. It is celebrating the graduation and is symbolized by the burning of the ribbon with the colors of the eight faculties and a mystical parade. This festival has several attractions where people from all over the country and even abroad come off, such as concerts, sports and cultural activities.
Besides all these things Coimbra has more to offer, from museums and (national) parks and more monuments are also worth a visit.