Coimbra, across River Mondego

3 April 2012

It was a cloudy day. Our hotel Avenida is close to the railway station. Along the way are beautiful historical buildings. Unfortunately, the sun was hiding, strengthening the melancholy of the country. Unlike Porto, everything relates to tourism is not free. Coimbra Tourist Infomaration is not as generous as Porto to the tourists. Perhaps, it needs money to restore the town and fund the university.

Our activity of the first half day took place at the opposite shore.  A leisure stroll along the river Mondego, across the opposite shore.  The first striking momument is Gothic style Santa Clara-a-Velha, a convent rebuilt for Queen Santa Isabel in 14th century.  Its lower position rendered it to frequent floods and was abandoned in 17th century.  The ruin was excavated in the late 20th century.  After 12 years of restoration it is opened to the public recently. 

We ascended to the convent replacing Santa Clara-a-Velha, the Santa Clara-a-nova, to house the nun in a drier place.  It is large but only a small part was opened to the public.  The baroque church is rich but very dark inside.

Our last activity before dinner is a visit to Quinta das Lagrimas Gardens.  Beside the garden is a hotel under the  “Relais et Chateaux” hotel chain.  The garden is documented since 1326 when the Queen Saint Isabel ordered a new canal to carry water from the springs nearby Convent of Saint Claire.  It witnesses the romantic love between her grandson D. Pedro and Inês de Castro. Inês was connected to the Castilian Royal Family, by illegitimate descent.  King Alfonso IV disliked her.  She was killed by Pêro Coelho, Álvaro Gonçalves, and Diogo Lopes Pacheco.  Pedro executed the killers by ripping out their hearts.  When he became the king, he forced the entire court to swear allegiance to their new queen by kissing the corpse's hand.  Tragedy and scary!


Coimbra - University, Cathedrals and Jardim Bonânico

4 April 2012

Coimbra is a famous university town in Portugal. It's also the oldest, a town with honor, shares the nationhood, once a capital made by King Alfonso and strong association with history. With IC train it takes about 1 hour 10 minutes from Porto to Coimbra B. Then one has to take a connecting train to the town centre. The distance is 2 kilometres.

Our second day was blessed with sunshine, superb to appreciate the city with the university atop.  The clock tower at the university square can be seen everywhere.  The university was first established in Lisbon but transferred to Coimbra King Alfonso Palace in 1537.  Study was very limited, mostly theology, medicine and law but broadened by the reform from Pombal in 1770s.  Many buildings were replaced in 1940s.  But the halls around the Patio das Escolas have been standing over 700 years.

Visiting the patio is free.  But you will want to see the interior.  There are different types of tickets entitling you to see the different parts.  We opt for the chapel, library and the examination hall.  The library, Biblioteco Jaonina, is Baroque style, built in 18th century.  It is very beautiful inside, too nice to be focused on study.  Rosewood bookshelves and elobarately frescoed ceilings.  It is for appreciation, enjoyment but too extravagant for study.  The examination is also too spendid for the original purpose.  It looks like a theatre.

Apart from admiring the beauty of the architecture of the university, the other advantage is to have a panoramic view of the city, the old and new cathedral.

The fortress style old Cathedral is regarded as the nicest Romanesque church in Portugal.  It was a celebration of the triumph over Moors in 1064.

The new Cathedral was founded by the Jesuits at the end of 16th century.  Its facade is elaborated and exquistive.  The interior balances the exterior with high level of art pieces.

Walking around the town it's easy to spot artistic graffiti.  Not sure if it is because of the university, the more cultural nature, the graffiti are very beautiful, of a much higher level than those randomly in big cities or metropolitan.

Jardim Bonânico is the largest botanical garden in Portugal.  It was established in 1772 when Pombal introduced natural history study in the university.  The gardens are for research purposes but also laid out as a leisure garden.  At the entrance stands an aqueduct dated 16th century.