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  • Culture | Portugal
    Updated at May 7,2015

    University of Coimbra - Universidade Velha - Paco das Escolas:

    Opening Hours: April 14th to October 15th  8.30 - 19.00 | Tourist Circuit: 9.00 - 19.30, October 16th, 2014 to March 15th, 2015 9.00 - 17.30 | Tourist Circuit: 9.30 to 13.00; 14.00 - 17.30. Entrance prices: General ticket - €9.00 (includes Hall of Capelos, Private Examination Room, Hall of Arms, Joanine Library, Academic Prison), Student ticket < 26 years - €5.50, Senior ticket > 65 years - €7.00, Child ticket - free for under 13 , accompanied by family Tickets tour - €15, free for children under 13 accompanied by family, Tower ticket - €3, children over 13 years old, prohibited to children under 13, General ticket with tower - 12,50 € children over 13 years old, prohibited to children under 13, Audio guide - €3. Closing Dates: December 24th, December 25th, December 31st, January 1st. Biblioteca Joanina only: Opening hours: 1 November to 18 March: Weekdays – 9.00 to 17.30, Weekends – 10.00 to 16.00, 19 March to 31 October: Everyday – 8.30 to 19.00, Closed 24, 25, 31 December and 1 January. Entrance:
    €7.00 – general, €5.50 – students and 65+.


    Porta Férrea and Via Latina                     

    The Páco das Escolas

    University Tower
    Sala dos Capelos (and Private Examination Room and Arms Room)

    Academic Prison

    Saint Michael's Chapel

    Joanine Library

    Introduction: “Porto works, Braga Prays, Coimbra studies, and Lisbon gets the money” goes the saying, and as far as Coimbra is concerned, this is totally true. The main city in the central region of Portugal, Coimbra has about 100,000 inhabitants, including the nearly 23,000 students that makes it the second largest of the 15 public universities in Portugal, as well as the oldest and the best, according to national rankings. Coimbra's university, founded in 1290, is Portugal's oldest and most distinguished. Third of the city's 35,000 population are students. They lend vibracy and vitality to the city. Coimbra is built on a hill. Wandering up into the city you'll find pretty squares and steep, winding alleyways adorned by tumbling displays of flowers. But you'll find that the shops and cafés are often brimming with modern design and quirky originality. Established in the 13th century, the University of Coimbra is one of Portugal's oldest universities, influencing later institutions in the country and beyond. Founded in 1290 — making it one of the world’s oldest continually operating universities — and still one of Portugal’s most prestigious schools. Through the centuries the university developed a set of customs and traditions collectively known as “praxe,” which among other things governs the use of the official university uniform that consists in part of a black cape, giving students a strikingly vampiric appearance. In May each year, the university celebrates the Queima das Fitas (see below also the section about Coimbra Fado), the “burning of the ribbons”, when graduating students burn the ribbons they have been wearing, the colour of which signifies their faculty – yellow for medicine, and so on. The celebrations last a week, and their grand finale is a long drunken parade. The students are not the only ones in black: it is the traditional dress of many of the rural women who come into town as well. The Main University Area accommodates merely a small part of the whole which constitutes the University of Coimbra today. It occupies various areas in the city, with its eight faculties, half a score research centres, an Institute for Interdisciplinary Research, structures for the encouragement of entrepreneurship and of connection to the management field, a university stadium, the Science Museum, the Gil Vicente Academic Theatre, the Botanical Garden, structures of support for students (dormitories, university restaurants, bars, study areas, centres for social contact) and the biggest academy in the country. At the end of the twentieth century, a movement of a great physical expansion of the University began, and which is at this point, attaining its peak. The amount of construction involved in this movement is furthermore the biggest in the history of this institution. Sadly, I didn't go in term time, which I think would be even better as the whole town would be more buzzing. Go in the first week in May, and you can see their festival to celebrate the last week of term.

    Porta Férrea ("iron gate", 1634) leading into the fine courtyard. Enclosed on three sides by buildings, it has a terrace on the south side from which there is a magnificent view. With the intent to honour the entrance into the court of the University, the Porta Férrea is the first important work undertaken by the School after acquiring the building thus idealised as a triumphal arch with a double façade (in the tradition of the military fort door), apologetic of the institution, evoked in the sculpturesque programme, allusive of the four faculties (Theology, Law, Medicine and Canon-Laws) and of the two important monarchs (King Dinis, who founded the University, and King John III, who had it transferred to Coimbra) in its history:

    On the north side is the actual Old University building, the Colégio, with the Chancellery and the Law Faculty, and, up flights of steps, the "Via Latina" colonnade where once only Latin was allowed to be spoken. On the east side of the courtyard is the observatory (Observatório) and on the west the University Church, built in 1517-52 as the palace chapel, with a 33m/110ft high tower (1733) and an adjacent small museum of sacred art. The Via Latina constitutes in its essence, a mass of grandeur, leaning on the northern internal elevation of the school palace, as a skilful solution to facilitate the access between the vice-rector's court, the Sala dos Capelos and the Main Areas. Behind the Via Latina are richly decorated examination rooms and the elaborate hall where degrees are conferred. From the second-floor gallery a narrow open walkway extends outside along the edge of the roof, affording one of the best views in town:

    The Páco das Escolas (Patio of the Schools). The centerpiece of the campus area is the Paço das Escolas, a former Portuguese royal palace, re-purposed centuries ago as university space. Much of it is open to the public: classrooms lined with ancient wooden desks, law students smoking on arcaded balconies, climbing up stairwells whose landings gave successively more impressive views of the city below. Centuries-old Azulejos (Portuguese blue-and-white-glazed tiles) decorated many walls, while just-posted fliers advertising poetry slams and dance lessons covered others. It is located within the Universidade Velha, the Old University. Here are some of the oldest and stateliest buildings of the university. The figure of João III, who installed the university in Coimbra, still reigns from the centre of the patio. Behind him, there is a magnificent view of the river. Every year the Paço das Escolas is visited by about 200 thousand tourists from various backgrounds.

    A statue of King João III, who based the University permanently in Coimbra:

    View of Paco das Escolas from the viewpoint to the Mondego river (west):

    view to the north-west from Paco das Escolas:

    and the western wll of Joanina LIbrary:

    view to west from Paco das Escolas - the Mondego river:

    University Tower: Built between 1728 and 1733, replacing another famous tower which John of Rouen had built in 1561, it was designed by the roman architect Antonio Canevari, creating the matriarch of the European university towers. In addition to the clocks, it accommodates the bells which regulate the ritual functioning of the University. The University Tower may only be admired from the exterior. The University is, however, in the process of preparing this monument for future visits to its interior, which will allow visitors to climb to its highest point and enjoy an unrivaled view of the city of Coimbra. But, still today, you can climb up the clock tower (called The Goat !), where amazing views are guaranteed of the whole city. THe tower's bell is known among students as "Goat". This monument Mafrense Baroque style, has 34 meters high and 180 steps to reach the top, with shaped terrace:

    Sala dos Capelos (and Private Examination Room and Arms Room): The Sala Grande dos Actos is the most important room of the University of Coimbra. It is also known as Sala dos Capelos. When visiting the Sala dos Capelos, you may also visit the Private Examination Room and the Arms Room. The Private Examination Room was an integrating part of the royal wing of the palace. It was a royal chamber, that is, the place where the monarch stayed overnight. This was also the first room where the first “meeting” was held between the vice-rector D. Garcia de Almeida and the University professors on the 13th October 1537, which is the date of the final transfer of this institution to Coimbra. The Arms Room was part of the royal wing of the old palace. It accommodates a full array of arms (halberds) of the Academic Royal Guard, which are still used today by the Halberdiers (guards) in the formal academic ceremonies (solemn “Honoris Causa” doctorates, the rector's investiture, formal beginning of the classes):

    Sala do Exame Privado:

    Ceiling of Arms Room:

    Arms Room - Sala das Armas:

    Sala dos Capelos 2nd floor - view to Paco das Escolas:

    Coimbra roofs from the second floor of the Sala dos Capelos:

    Paco dos Escolas, statue of King Joao III and River Mondego -  from the Sala dos Capelos 2nd. floor:

    View from the Sala dos Capelos in University of Coimbra - Coimbra Se' Velha and Coimbra walls:

    Academic Prison: As a result of the privileged condition of the University, from 1593 it would be established in two ancient rooms, underneath the Sala dos Capelos. It remained here until 1773, being then transferred to the substructures of the Joanine Library which, in its turn, had incorporated, during its construction, the ruined remains of what had once been the ancient prison of the Royal Palace, documenting the only space of mediaeval jail still existent in Portugal.

    Saint Michael Chapel - Capela de S. Miguel: It was built in the beginning of the 16th century, replacing another chapel, probably from the 12th century. Its architectural structure is Manueline with a visibly decorative style, especially in the huge windows of the main nave and in the transept arch. You enter the Capela entrance and find inside a snack bar with light meals. There is internal courtyard full with Azulejos (cermaic tiles) in its first and second floors:

    Entrance door to Saint Michael Chapel - Capela de S. Miguel:

    The internal courtyard with Azulejos:

    Second floor of the internal courtyard:

    Wedding in the Saint Michael Chapel:

    Biblioteca Joanina: Among thousands of libraries all over the world, the British newspaper "The Telegraph" highlights two Portuguese libraries in a list of the world's most spectacular libraries: the Library of Mafra and University Library of Coimbra. Indeed, among eight dozen libraries through more than 20 countries, published in the book "The Library: A World History " by James Campbell, the British newspaper selects 16 libraries and places the Baroque Library of University of Coimbra in the first position. Its construction started in 1717, and was completed in 1728. The Baroque library is marvelous – apart from the cathedral-like room itself - its triumphal arches, walls of ancient tomes and shelves, pillars and antique tables, the poor light and atmosphere - all leave you breathless... Since the 20th century, this is a museum of some of Portugal's most revered works of literature. The scene was of row upon row of bookshelves, two stories high, all with gilded covers and stored behind heavy oak shelves. It look more like something from a Harry Potter movie. Entering the library is a surreal experience. It is a bit dark and small bats are flying here and there. A colony of bats is nurtured within it to keep the insect population out from the old books. Over the entrance door, the library exhibits the national coat of arms. Inside it, there are three great rooms divided by decorated arches entirely executed by Portuguese artists. The central nave of the library makes its structure resembles a chapel, where the portrait of King Joao (John) V, takes the place of the altar.The Casa da Livraria, the name with which the Joanine Library was known, received its first books after 1750 and the construction of the building is dated between 1717 and 1728. The building has three storeys and it accommodates around 200.000 books. The noble storey houses 40.000 books. It is said that the builder, King Joao V, was no lover of books, but built the library to outdo his brother-in-law, Kaiser Karl VI, who at the time was building his own library, the Hofbibliotek, in Vienna. These may be the grandest rooms in all Portugal. Lacquered light and dark green cases of rare books rise in tiers from the inlaid marble floor and are topped with elaborate carvings, crests and crowns dripping with gold leaf. This library, perhaps more than any other feature, symbolizes Coimbra's status as an important city, despite its small size. Coimbra was Portugal's first royal capital and the birthplace of six kings. St. Anthony of Padua was ordained here and the city was home to St. Elizabeth of Portugal as well. Portugal's greatest poet, Luis Camoes, and French sculptor Jean de Rouen worked here. Until this century, Coimbra had Portugal's only university.


    Last remark on University of Coimbra: Walking through the University of Coimbra campus, you will encounter typical "student graffiti." I find the petty crime rather entertaining. These graffiti works are far from pleasant looking. These student graffitis are always with themes of revolution (against the institution and society), of racism, of lies, of yearnings for reform.

  • Culture | Portugal
    Updated at Oct 12,2014

    Estação São Bento. São Bento Railway Station: The most notable aspect of São Bento Station is the large, magnificent tile panels in the vestibule. The tiles numbers are 20 thousand, date from 1905–1916 and are the work of Jorge Colaço, the most important azulejo painter of the time. The first tiles were put up on 13 August 1905.
    The panels depict landscapes, ethnographic scenes as well as historical events like the Battle of Valdevez (1140), the meeting of the knight Egas Moniz and Alfonso VII of León (12th century), the arrival of King John I and Philippa of Lancaster in Porto (1387) and the Conquest of Ceuta (1415):