Great Hall of Acts, Coimbra University

The Great Hall of Acts is arguably the most important space at the University of Coimbra.  Once the Throne Room when the University was the Royal Palace, this room was where all the Portuguese kings of the First Dynasty lived and was where John I was proclaimed King of Portugal in 1385.

Today, the room is where Doctoral candidates face their PhD. thesis defense, a formal oral examination required to obtain the degree of Doctor.  Other ceremonies taking place in the Great Hall of Acts are the Official Opening of the School Year, the Investiture of the Rector, and the awarding of honorary degrees.

The large paintings hung around the room are portraits of the kings of Portugal, beginning with Dom Afonso Henriques, the first king of Portugal.  Interestingly, there’s a 60 year gap in the chronology.  The kings who ruled during the Iberian Union, Philip II, Philip III and Philip IV, are not included in the room.  During this period, Portugal was under Spanish control and, 400 years later, this is still a sore spot with the Portuguese people.  Hence, the omission of the three kings.

There are many beautiful spaces in the old University.  A tour of Coimbra University is a required stop on any visit to Coimbra.  It’s well worth the time.Great Hall

 

University of Coimbra, Portugal

The University of Coimbra is one of the oldest universities in the world.  Once the royal palace, the Velha Universidade, or Old University, is the oldest part of the school and is a beautiful place.  We were able to tour the university, starting with the Joanine Library, and working our way through the buildings.  If you visit Coimbra, the Old University is a required stop on your journey.

This photo is from the wide Paço das Escolas, the main square of the Old University.  On the left is the famous bell tower and straight ahead is the Via Latina, which is the entrance to the part of the University that was the royal palace.  As beautiful as the exterior is, the interior is stunning.  The Joanine Library, the Capela de São Miquel, and the Sala dos Capelos are just three of the many beautiful spaces in the Old University.

University

Staircase, University of Coimbra

I tend to be a bit odd when visiting places.  It’s not always the usual touristy things that catch my eye.  Sometimes it’s interesting patterns or spaces that intrigue me.  This staircase is an example.

There’s so much about this space that I like.  I love the curve of the ceiling at the top of the stairs.  I like the way the light comes through the window at the top and highlights the roughness of the walls.  I like the way the stairs curve to the right as they rise.  And I like the contrast between the simplicity of the walls against the colorful patterns of the azulejos.

And all of this from just a simple staircase at the University of Coimbra.

University of Coimbra Staircase

Largo da Portagem, Coimbra

Located across from the Santa Clara Bridge, Largo da Portagem is the main square in Coimbra and a central gathering place.  The name comes from the fact that in the old days, goods coming into Coimbra from the south were taxed in the square.

The beautiful little square features the beautiful monument to Joaquim António de Aguiar, an 18th century politician and Coimbra native.  Interestingly, he was best known for signing into law an order that dissolved all church-run monasteries, convents and colleges, effectively extinguishing the great power that the church held in Portugal, turning the power over to the government instead.

Joaquim António de Aguiar

Barbacan Gate, Coimbra

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.

Old Gate

Rua Quebra Costa, Coimbra

Known as “the backbreaker,” Rua Quebra Costa is a steep lane, really more a staircase, that winds its way from Torre de Almedina to the the old city and the University of Coimbra.  along the way, you pass Fado ao Centro, the Cathedral and the Machado de Castro National Museum before reaching the university at the top.  Rua Quebra Costa is quite photogenic.  I especially love the Tricana de Coimbra sculpture that sits on a wall near the bottom of the lane.

Rua Quebra Costa is not a road to take if you’re in a hurry.  Take your time and enjoy the sights.

Rua Quebra Costa

Monastery of Santa Cruz

The venerable University of Coimbra is not the oldest school in the city.  The Mosteiro de Santa Cruz predates the university by over a century.  The monastery was a highly respected school during medieval times.

Saint Theotonius was the monastery’s first prior and Saint Anthony of Padua studied theology and Latin at the monastery.  The first two kings of Portugal, Afonso Henriques and Sancho I, are buried in the church.

Because of its historical importance, the Mosteiro de Santa Cruz is a Portuguese National Landmark.

Monastery of Santa Cruz

 

Coimbra, Portugal

The old city of Coimbra is built on a hill, with the University of Coimbra at the top.  You can see the back of the Joanine Library at the top right.  It’s interesting how virtually every usable inch of the hill has been used.  An interesting ride is to take the small electric bus from the University and ride down the narrow, winding little lanes to the bottom.  It’s almost as good as a roller coaster.

There’s a lot that I like about this picture.  I like the bright colors of the buildings and sky.  I like the clothes hung out to dry on the yellow building.  People actually live here.  I like the rough stone wall in the bottom center, topped with a precarious looking staircase.  And I like the graffiti at the bottom right of the photo.

The building in the bottom left is also interesting to me.  I like the way the window arches seem to point up to the top of the hill.  The statue on the top corner of the building is enigmatic.  Is it just there for art’s sake or does it symbolize something?

Coimbra is a fascinating city.

Old Town

Fado ao Centro, Coimbra Portugal, March 2018

Fado is the national music of Portugal and our first experience with the music was in a small cultural center just a stone’s throw from  the Torre da Almedina, at the base of the stairs known as “the Backbreaker,” Rua Quebra Costa.

Fado ao Centro is dedicated to promoting the Coimbra style of Fado.  Coimbra Fado came about when male students at the University would stand in the narrow lanes of the city and serenade their sweethearts, who would listen from the window above.  This tradition has influenced the Coimbra style of Fado in several ways.

First, unlike the Lisbon version, only men can sing Coimbra Fado, and they should be students or former students of the University.  The performers wear the students’ traditional black suit and cape.  Second, the singer is accompanied by a Portuguese guitar and, sometimes, a classical, or Spanish guitar.  In the much more liberal Lisbon style the music is sometimes accompanied by piano, drums and other instruments.

Coimbra Fado’s songs are usually love songs, though occasionally a political protest song makes its way into the play list.  Finally, because of the intimacy between the singer and his beloved in the window above, clapping is not the way to show appreciation.  The proper way is to clear your throat, as if trying to get someone’s attention, kind of like the young girl’s father might do when discretely telling the gentleman caller to move along.  The girl would show her appreciation by turning her lights on and off several times.

The performance was wonderful.  The musicians were top notch and the music is moving.  There is a narrator who explains a little of the history of the music and what each song is about, and the room is full of photos and posters celebrating the artists who made Coimbra Fado famous.  For those interested, you can pick up CDs recorded by Fado ao Centro as well.

 

Old Cathedral of Coimbra

The Romanesque Sé Velha de Coimbra is almost as old as Portugal itself.  The construction of the cathedral was ordered and financed by Dom Afonso Henrique, the first king of Portugal.  Construction took many years, but the construction was advanced enough by 1185 that the coronation of Dom Sancho I, the second king of Portugal, took place in the cathedral. 

The cathedral’s construction was finished early in the 13th century, with the construction of the cloisters begun around the same time.  While there have been several additions to the cathedral, it is the only Romanesque cathedrals in Portugal to survive relatively intact over the centuries.

It’s a beautiful structure, strong like a fortress.  This photo is of the eastern  façade, with the semicircular apse.  I love the way the wispy cirrus clouds contrast with the angles and edges of the stones.

Old Cathedral