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In the Centro (Central) region of this country, one will find the city of Coimbra, which is also the main city of this region. It is not a large city, but it is full of numerous interesting sites.
Coimbra lies on the banks of the Mondego River. Like in earlier times, the houses can be found along the river and up the hills that surround the city. In the past, the clergy, nobility, and students would occupy the upper levels of the city, while the artists and tradesmen lived on the lower levels. In today’s Coimbra, this pattern is still evident.
For the Portuguese, Coimbra is a very special city. Six of Portugal’s kings were born here, and from 1139 to 1256, it was the capital of the country. In addition, it is home to the oldest University in Portugal, as well as one of the oldest universities in the world.
For those whose interests lie with architecture, they will not be disappointed when visiting Coimbra. The Palace of Justice stands on one of the most traditional streets of lower Coimbra, Sofia Street. This building was originally a school, and then the home of nobles in the 16th century.
This city is also home to many historic churches and other buildings. One interesting site is the Patio da Inquisicao (Patio/Yard of the Inquisition), where the office of the Inquisition was based from 1566 until 1821. Other sites a visitor may enjoy include a Romanesque Cathedral, known as the Coimbra Old Cathedral, as well as the Coimbra New Cathedral, which was originally a Jesuit College and Church.
One of Coimbra’s most well known tourist sites is the University of Coimbra, established in 1290 in Lisbon and moved to this city in 1308. It was built in the upper level of the city, and along with its students, has had a very strong influence on the city. Today, the university is home to students of approximately 70 different nationalities.
Even better known than the Coimbra University is the Joao V Library. This impressive library, now used as a museum, boasts three large rooms containing 300,000 volumes. In addition, the library is visually impressive, with frescoes as well as rosewood and ebony tables. The solid bookshelves are made from exotic woods.
In addition to the usual churches and other historic sites, Coimbra is also home to some unique attractions. When visiting this city, one will find the remains of aqueducts built here during the Roman times, as well as other artifacts from the invasions of the area which took place in the past.
Because of its proximity to the river, many gardens and parks can be found in Coimbra. One of the most famous of these is the Botanical Garden at the University of Coimbra. This offers the visitor an area that can be used for relaxing by themselves or with their families, as well as the opportunity to view many unique types of flora. In addition, there is a large collection of ornamental objects, such as fountains and statues enhancing this garden.
For those who are interested in open-air markets and other traditional shops, Coimbra has something for most everyone. Additionally, due to the number of students attending the University of Coimbra, the city also has many shops catering to the styles popular with this age group.
One last site that should be on everyone’s “need to visit” list is the city of Conimbriga, which lies a short distance from Coimbra. This area is the largest Roman settlement in Portugal, and goes back to the 9th century B.C. As is usual for these types of sites, the city was built in layers, each layer giving a hint of life at that particular time. There is a museum on site that displays various objects found during the excavation.
Like many of the cities in Portugal, Coimbra is a mixture of the ancient and the modern. One of the advantages of a city the size of Coimbra is that it is large enough to contain a great diversity of interesting sites, while still being small enough to allow the visitor easy access to the areas that are of interest to him/her. Although it may not be possible for one to visit every city in Portugal, Coimbra is one that is well worth including in one’s itinerary
Map of Coimbra and places to visit
See more places nearby in the Centre guide