Minerva Stairs, Coimbra

There are so many things to see and do at the Velha Universidade in Coimbra that the Minerva Stairs are often overlooked.  One of two entrances to Pátio das Escolas, the huge courtyard at the center of the Old University, the Minerva Stairs opened in 1724, the stairway is named after the Roman goddess of wisdom, whose image tops the gate.

The entrance to the self-guided tour of the Joanine Library is located at the bottom of the stairs, so if you take the tour, be sure to turn around and check out the beautiful staircase you just descended.

Minerva Stairs

The Royal Palace of Coimbra

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.

University.jpg

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.

Great Hall

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.

Private Exam 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.

Arms Room

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.

Dukes of Braganza Palace, Guimaraes

The Palace of the Dukes of Braganza has seen a lot throughout its history.  Originally built in the 15th century as the residence of Afonso, the first Duke of Braganza, it remained in the family until the end of the century, when it was closed.

Several years later the palace was passed to the House of Aziz, when it was given as dowry to Isabel of Braganza when she wed the Infante Edward, the sixth son of King Manuel I.  For many years it remained unused.

Over the next few centuries, the abandoned palace fell into ruins, as stone from the structure was taken to build or repair roads and structures in the area.  By the beginning of the twentieth century, the palace was deemed beyond repair.

During the 1930s, plans were created for the restoration of the palace.  The reconstructed palace was based on an analysis of various medieval palaces across Europe.  The restoration was completed and the Palace of the Dukes of the Braganzas was opened to the public in 1959.

The restored palace was probably much more ornate than the original structure.  The palace served for many years as the Presidential Palace during Antonio Salazar’s Estado Novo regime.

The palace is a beautiful place and well worth a tour.  We spend a couple hours exploring the building and its many beautiful possessions.  In addition to the historical rooms and belongings, there are a couple really nice modern art displays, including a Paolo Neves sculpture and an exhibit of art by local artist José de Guimarães.

Here are a few of the photos from our tour.

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

Stairway, Porto, Portugal

I really like the way the severe stone stairway leads to Porto’s Cathedral.  If you were so inclined you can imagine that you’re climbing a stairway to Heaven.

Stairway to Heaven

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

Arched Stairs

In March we visited the Palace of the Dukes of Braganza in Guimarães, Portugal.  A beautiful structure, it’s hard to believe that a century ago the palace was in ruins.  It was renovated based on an analysis of other European palaces of the 15th century.  The newly reconstructed palace was opened to the public in 1959 and once served as an official residence of Portuguese dictator António de Oliveira Salazar.

The palace is full of interesting rooms with priceless antiques and paintings, but this arched staircase, with a simple wooden door at the bottom, caught my eye.  It’s primitive and elegant at the same time.

Arched Staircase

São Bento Railway Station, Porto Portugal, March 2018

Portugal is full of beautiful and wonderful sights.  From the beaches of the Algarve to the wilderness areas of the Minho, beauty is found everywhere.  Porto is home to one of the most beautiful railroad stations in the world.

The Convent of São Bento da Avé Maria originally stood where the São Bento Station now sits, but the original convent was destroyed in a fire in the 18th century and the rebuilt convent was in a state of disrepair when the decision was made to raze the convent and to build the station.

Porto architect José Marques da Silva was chosen to design the station.  The French Beaux-Arts was opened in 1900.  The exterior is quite striking.

Sao Bento Exterior
The Beaux-Arts exterior

The interior of the station, though, is what puts the São Bento Station on the list of most beautiful railroad stations.  Between 1905 and 1916, renowned artist Jorge Colaço covered the walls of the station with hand painted azulejos depicting historical events and scenes from around Portugal.  Colaço created many works of art throughout Portugal but São Bento Station is arguably his best work.

Sao Bento 6
The lobby

While most of the artwork are the blue and white tiles most commonly used, the top border is a mural of polychromatic tiles depicting the history of transportation.  One of the larger murals depicts Infante Dom Henrique’s victory at the battle of Ceuta.

Sao Bento Detail 2
Celebrating Infante Dom Henrique’s victory at Ceuta

Another mural celebrates the marriage of João I to Philippa of Lancaster.  The murals are all quite beautiful.

Sao Bento Detail 1
Celebrating the wedding of João I to Philippa of Lancaster

It’s important to remember that the São Bento Station is a working railway station and is a major transportation hub in the north of Portugal.  It may look like a museum but it still serves its original purpose and moves a lot of people every day.

Sao Bento 10
The busy station platforms

São Bento Station is a beautiful landmark and a can’t miss destination if you’re traveling in Portugal.