Coimbra is a major educational center of Portugal. The buildings of the University of Coimbra, which is one of the oldest in Europe, cover a large part of the city.
Coimbra is built on hilly terrain and the streets of the old part of the city were designed for pedestrians, horses and oxcarts. It is impossible to drive in the city. If you come to Coimbra by car, the best advice is to park it and walk. Be prepared to go up and down many flights of stairs. Wear good shoes. You are going to need them.
Coimbra was called Aeminium in Roman times. The city is situated by the Mondego river which turns red with clay after it rains. The Moors occupied the city from around the year 711 until 1064 when it was captured by Ferdinand I of León. Coimbra served as the capital of Portugal from 1131 to 1255. Today, the city has approximately 143,000 inhabitants, including about 20,000 students.
The narrow streets of downtown Coimbra are paved with cobblestones arranged in artistic geometric designs.
Buildings take advantage of every bit of space. Residents of some buildings may be able to touch two opposing walls by stretching their arms.
At various times of the day, students walk along the streets to go to different buildings of the University of Coimbra, or to attend church services or take a lunch break. Nobody wears high heels because they are impractical and dangerous on the steep cobblestone streets.
Portugal is famous for its decorated ceramics. Coimbra has many shops that sell Portuguese ceramics with many traditional designs.
The Almedina arch was the main gate into the city. It is located in the lowest part of the walls, and it was the busiest and most important point of access for both military and civil purposes. The gate was originally built between two turrets that were later joined by an arch and reinforced with a fortified tower.
Works of art, like a bronze lute shaped like a woman by the Almedina arch, and a seated barefoot peasant girl carrying a jar are displayed along the frequently traveled alleys.
Coimbra, like many outposts established by the Romans, has churches that were used to spread Roman Catholicism. Many of these structures have withstood centuries of weathering and earthquakes, but some have not. The Old Santa Clara convent (Convento de Sta. Clara-a-velha) was built too close to the Mondego river and was flooded several times and also damaged by earthquakes. The convent was abandoned and a new one was established at a higher location a few blocks away.
The Cathedral of Coimbra was built starting in the year 1139. This is the only Portuguese Romanesque cathedral that has survived relatively intact up to the present time.
You will not go hungry in Portugal. Many restaurants offer a fixed-price menu that includes bread, appetizer, half a liter of wine, a first dish and a main meal. Half a liter (16.9 fl oz) is considered the standard ration of wine for one person. Not bad for €10.50 Euros per person!
One particularly memorable restaurant was Adega Paço do Conde on Rua Paço Conde 1. You can choose from the menu or just go to the grill at the entrance of the restaurant and choose what you like from a refrigerated display case with a wide selection of fish, meat and sausages.