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Portugal Travel Blog

Coimbra, the ancestral “city of students”

Coimbra, the ancestral “city of students”

August 03, 2015

Former Portugal's capital, Coimbra welcomes one of the oldest university of Europe. Come to discover it with us!

World Heritage since 2013, the University of Coimbra, Portugal’s oldest university, has been welcoming the youth of thousands of students for almost 500 years. Discover the energy of the former capital of Portugal and birthplace of Portuguese kings.

“The city of Students”

Transferred from Lisbon in 1537, the University of Coimbra is one of the oldest in Europe, and welcomes nowadays more than 20 000 students. Its St Michael’s chapel is a gorgeous edifice beautifully decorated with Azulejos, Portuguese traditional ceramic tiles. The library is considered as a master piece of interior baroque design; the lacquered bookcases are lined with nearly 100,000 medieval books and manuscripts from all parts of Portugal. Feel the atmosphere of this university where the most prestigious Portuguese character have studied through the centuries. The University of Coimbra has been listed on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2013.

St Michael’s Chapel and its extraordinary Baroque organ lavished with gilded angels

Here, student rituals and traditions are respected for centuries. Students wear the academic traditional outfit (traje académico): dark robe, cape and leggings, which might remind you Harry Potter’s outfit.

Coimbra is also a lovely place to enjoy some Fado music. Born in Lisbon, the popular music came to Coimbra to find its very own personality. Here, the Fado is exclusively sung by men who are typically students at the University of Coimbra. Bands sing at night, almost in the dark, in city squares or streets. Songs are about young love and ironic references to the university teachers.

Places to visit

Coimbra has two cathedrals: The old and the new one. The Sé Velha (Old cathedral), built in 1184, has a fort appearance due to its all crenelated walls, narrow windows-slits and heavy set veneer. Inside, the oppressive effect of the exterior, is relieved with Renaissance and ostentatious design. Here, kings such as Sancho I and João I have been crowned. Sé Nova (New cathedral) was found by the Jesuits in 1598 and contrast with the old one with the exuberance of the exterior.

The new cathedral surrounded by typical white houses with orange roofs

In Santa Clara Monastery, built in 1649, rests the grave of Queen Santa Isabel, patron of the city, who has been canonised as a saint of the Roman Catholic Church. Baroque but sober and utilitarian in style, the building is adorned with small turrets. To learn more about the place and its history, book a guided tour with our professional guide…

The new Santa Clara Monastery commisioned by Queen Isabel

The historical centre is very well-conserved. Take a walk through the picturesque and paved streets, and imagine the medieval atmosphere. Be amazed by the rich heritage of the city of Coimbra. In the centre, you can admire the beautiful ceramics of Coimbra. Coimbra can be visited through a day trip from Porto.