The Barbacan Gate, at the base of the Torre de Almedina, is pretty much all that remains of the castle walls that once surrounded Coimbra. Between the 8th and 11th centuries, Moors and Christians took turns conquering and occupying Coimbra until, in 1064, King Ferdinand I of León and Castile took the city from the Moors for the final time.
In 1139, Dom Afonso Henriques, Portugal’s first king, chose Coimbra as the capital of the new kingdom. Six Portuguese kings were born in Coimbra, and the city remained the seat of Portuguese power until 1260, when Dom Afonso III chose Lisbon as his capital.
The need for castle walls to protect the city are gone. The walls were long ago integrated into the surrounding buildings, leaving the Barbacan Gate and the Torre de Almedina as the last evidence of the castle that, for centuries, protected the city from invaders.
Today, the Barbacan Gate serves as the entrance to the traditional, and most famous, way to access the Old City and Coimbra University. After passing through the gate, you climb the many stairs of Rua Quebra Costa, known as “the Backbreaker” for a long, arduous walk to the top of the hill.
Just inside the gate, at the bottom of Rua Quebra Costa, there’s a quiet little cafe, where it’s fun to sit outside with a beer or a glass of wine, and people-watch. It’s one of my favorite spots in Coimbra, with the Fado de Coimbra sculpture just inside the gate, and the Tricana de Coimbra, another sculpture, a few yards farther along. It’s a nice way to escape the hustle and bustle of downtown Coimbra.