For many years, the Portuguese royal family lived in Coimbra. The first king, Afonso I, is buried in the Santa Cruz Monastery, and the city was the home of the Portuguese House of Burgundy. Their home was the beautiful Royal Palace of Coimbra, now the Old University of Coimbra.
The University is one of the oldest universities in the world. Originally established in Lisbon in 1290, the university was originally moved to Coimbra in 1308. The university was moved between Lisbon and Coimbra several times before moving permanently to Coimbra in 1537, where it was permanently installed in the Royal Palace.
There are several beautiful spaces in the palace that harken back to the days when the Royal family lived here. The Great Hall of Acts was once the Throne Room of the Royal Palace and the room where, in 1385, King John I was proclaimed king of Portugal.
Portraits of the kings of Portugal line the walls of the Great Hall. Interestingly, there are a few exceptions. The three Hapsburg kings- Phillip I, Phillip II and Phillip III- are not to be found here. From 1581 until 1640, these three kings, Spanish by birth, ruled Portugal. The Hapsburg rule ended when John II, Duke of Braganza, claimed the throne as the great great grandson of King Manuel I. The rule of the Hapsburg dynasty is still, after many centuries, still a sore point with many Portuguese.
Another great space in the palace is the Private Examination Room. This was originally the king’s private chamber and sleeping quarters. As a part of the University, the room was where doctoral candidates underwent a private oral examination. Portraits of the University’s rectors line the room.
The Arms Room houses the weapons of the Royal Academic Guard. Today, the weapons are used only during formal ceremonies such as the formal beginning of classes and the investiture of a new rector.
There are plenty of other great spaces to explore at the University beyond the walls of the Royal Palace. The Joanine Library and Saint Michael’s Chapel are not to be missed. The University is a great place and well worth the time you’ll spend exploring.