After looking at the map between Lisbon and Porto, we decided to visit the town of Coimbra. Coimbra has the oldest public university in Portugal, dating back to 1290, and a UNESCO site. First established in Lisbon, the university was moved permanently to Coimbra in 1537. The school is among the oldest universities in continuous operation in the world and played an influential role in the development of higher education in the Portuguese-speaking world.
Walking Around the University
The university is set on top of a hill, about 30 kilometers inland from the ocean with phenomenal views from every angle. After we passed through the gates, we were greeted by a caped student who told us a bit about her experience at the university. The black capes, worn by students when they are on campus, are so distinctive. J.K. Rowling used them in the Harry Potter book series. In addition, the Sandeman sherry and port producer also used the cape in its logo from 1928.
Visiting the Buildings
After a lot of wandering around, we found that we had to go all the way back off-campus to buy tickets to visit some of the actual university buildings. In the Chemistry/Science building, one lecture hall and one chemical lab room have been preserved. In and around the chemistry lab, they had interactive displays involving chemistry and physics. Having a degree in Chemistry myself, I found the chemicals, glassware, and experiments fascinating.
The primary reason for buying the tickets to visit the buildings was to see the Baroque Joanine Library. Before we arrived, I had read about the magnificent library. In addition to the library. we got a brief look at the chapel and we decided we needed to see that as well.
The old library was used for book storage and to jail unruly students. An odd combination of uses. The most beautiful part of the library was upstairs. It was magnificent with beautiful light coming in and two floors of books. Small hidden staircases in the corners of the stacks are used to access the books stored in the upper stacks.
It wasn’t difficult to picture scientists and scholars combing through the treasure-trove of books. Unfortunately, they wouldn’t let us take pictures inside the library so there isn’t much to show you. The one thing I will say is if you have time to stop in Coimbra, the library is definitely worth a visit.
Most likely built on the site of a 12th-century chapel, St. Michaels chapel dates back to the 16th century. The chapel is small and is very beautiful, sitting right next to the old Baroque Library. The floor of the main chapel dates from 1613 with tiles made in Lisbon. The ceiling mural was done by Francisco F. de Araújo near the end of the 17th century and the Baroque organ, with about 2000 pipes dates from 1737.
The Royal Palace
The Royal Palace on the campus of Coimbra University was originally home to the Portuguese royal family. Later, the Palace became part of the university and was first used as the home of the rector (head of the school). You enter the building up an impressive double staircase leading to the many decorative rooms inside. Inside, the Great Hall of Acts was once the Throne Room of the Royal Palace. The throne room was also used to proclaim King John I King of Portugal in 1385.
We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the University in Coimbra and we would definitely recommend a visit if you are ever in the area.