Coimbra (, also US: , UK: , Portuguese: [kuˈĩbɾɐ] (listen) or [ˈkwĩbɾɐ]) is a city and a municipality in Portugal. The population of the municipality at the 2011 census was 143,397, in an area of 319.40 square kilometres (123.3 sq mi). The fourth-largest agglomerated urban area in Portugal after Lisbon, Porto, and Braga, it is the largest city of the district of Coimbra and the Centro Region. About 460,000 people live in the Região de Coimbra, comprising 19 municipalities and extending into an area of 4,336 square kilometres (1,674 sq mi).

Among the many archaeol...Read more

Coimbra (, also US: , UK: , Portuguese: [kuˈĩbɾɐ] (listen) or [ˈkwĩbɾɐ]) is a city and a municipality in Portugal. The population of the municipality at the 2011 census was 143,397, in an area of 319.40 square kilometres (123.3 sq mi). The fourth-largest agglomerated urban area in Portugal after Lisbon, Porto, and Braga, it is the largest city of the district of Coimbra and the Centro Region. About 460,000 people live in the Região de Coimbra, comprising 19 municipalities and extending into an area of 4,336 square kilometres (1,674 sq mi).

Among the many archaeological structures dating back to the Roman era, when Coimbra was the settlement of Aeminium, are its well-preserved aqueduct and cryptoporticus. Similarly, buildings from the period when Coimbra was the capital of Portugal (from 1131 to 1255) still remain. During the late Middle Ages, with its decline as the political centre of the Kingdom of Portugal, Coimbra began to evolve into a major cultural centre. This was in large part helped by the establishment of the first Portuguese university in 1290 in Lisbon and its relocation to Coimbra in 1308, making it the oldest academic institution in the Portuguese-speaking world. Apart from attracting many European and international students, the university is visited by many tourists for its monuments and history. Its historical buildings were classified as a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 2013: "Coimbra offers an outstanding example of an integrated university city with a specific urban typology as well as its own ceremonial and cultural traditions that have been kept alive through the ages."

Roman Republic
Arcos do Jardim, built between 1568 and 1570 on the remains of a Roman aqueduct

The city, located on a hill by the Mondego River, was called Aeminium in Roman times. The Romans founded the civitas of Aeminium in this place at the time of Augustus, which came under the protection of nearby Conímbriga (in Condeixa-a-Nova), some 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) to the south. The Roman city was encircled by a wall, and followed an orthogonal plan, with the cardo maximus and decumanus maximus crossing at the Forum. An aqueduct existed, the remains of which were incorporated into a latter medieval renovation. Aeminium fell under the influence, administratively, of the larger Roman villa of Conímbriga, until the latter was sacked by the Sueves and Visigoths between 465 and 468 and abandoned.[1] It became the seat of a diocesis, replacing Conímbriga. Although Conimbriga had been administratively important, Aeminium affirmed its position by being situated at the confluence of the north-south traffic that connected the Roman Bracara Augusta (Roman name of Braga) and Olisipo (Roman name of Lisbon) with its waterway, which enabled connections with the interior and coast. The limestone table on which the settlement grew has a dominant position overlooking the Mondego, circled by fertile lands irrigated by its waters. Vestiges of this early history include the cryptoporticus of the former Roman forum (now part of the Museu Nacional de Machado de Castro). The move of the settlement and bishopric of Conimbriga to Aeminium resulted in the name change to Conimbriga, evolving later to Colimbria.[1]

Suebi, Alans and Visigoths
Museu Nacional de Machado de Castro.

After being subjected to the Roman Empire for a long time, a deluge of barbarians flooded the Iberian Peninsula in 409, and the Lower Mondego area recognised Hermeric, the landlord of the Suebi, as its ruler. But the ambition to gain territory dominated Ataces, king of the Alans and Coimbra fell from the hands of Hermeric. Ataces, the new lord of Coimbra, depopulated and devastated it fearing the security of its fortresses. Delighted, however, with the beauty of Lower Mondego, and with the easiness of its fields, he laid beside it the foundations for a new city which was called Colimbria. Ataces converted to christianity, but being arian by sect persecuted catholics with ferocity. The prisoners were either beheaded before the walls of the new city, their bodies serving as foundations, or employed like cargo donkeys in its edification. Nobody escaped the tyranny of Ataces: he ordered everyone to work on the construction of the walls. Elipando, the holy Bishop of Coimbra was also there holding the stone and the clay for the works of the city. “Passing by the new Coimbra (says Arisberto, Bishop of Porto, writing to Samerico, Archbishop of Braga), there I saw working in the construction of their walls many Ministers of God; among them, at the orders of Ataces, was also Bishop Elipando: I cried with them for their misfortune and for the loss of this fertile province of the Roman Empire.” Hermeric of the northern Kingdom of the Suebi, whose the capital was Bracara Augusta (former name of Braga), did not lose hope of rescuing the lands that had been taken by Ataces in the south. He crossed the Douro river and appeared with his army before the new walls of Coimbra. But Ataces triumphed and followed Hermeric's retreating army to the banks of Douro, further north, where the Suebi landlord would buy from him, in exchange for his daughter, peace and an alliance. Ataces, crowned with the laurels of victory continues with great fervor the reedification of the city he had plundered before. Hermeric visited him in Colimbria bringing him her daughter, princess Cindazunda, who had been flourishing in age and beauty.

The coat of arms of Coimbra is said to be inspired on Cindazunda, Hermeric's daughter. The legendary symbolism of the lion is tied to Ataces, ruler of the Alans, and that of the serpent is tied to Hermeric, ruler of the Suebi[2].

Ataces, in order to show his gratitude had the picture of his new wife placed in a vase, with a serpent on one side and a lion walking towards her on the other. Those were the insignias of Ataces (lion) and Hermeric (serpent). Cindazunda had her eyes lifted up the sky and her hands raised as if thanking the Eternal for having been the medium between the father and the husband and having united with bonds of peace and friendship the serpent and the lion, up until that moment, enemies. As the walls and towers of the city were being built, the workers carved on the stones this insignia so pleasant to the King, that until today, has been the coat of arms of Coimbra. Cindazunda, professing Catholicism, established the bonds of peace between the two kings and improved the fortunes of the inhabitants of Coimbra mitigating the ferocious spirit of Ataces against the catholics. The Visigoths would conquest the region later. During the Visigothic era (from the 5th to the early 8th century), the County of Coimbra was created by king Wittiza (c. 687 – probably 710) and it was a sub-county of his dominion, established as a fief for his son prince Ardabast (or Sisebuto), with its seat in Emínio (the Visigothic name for Coimbra), which persisted until the Muslim invasion from the south.[3]

Islamic Era

The first Muslim campaigns that occupied the Iberian Peninsula occurred between 711 and 715, with Coimbra capitulating to Musa bin Nusair in 714. Although it was not a large settlement, Qulumriyah (Arabic: قُلُمْرِيَة), in the context of Al-Andalus, was the largest agglomerated centre along the northern Tagus valley, and its principal city boasted a walled enclosure of 10 hectares, supporting between 3000 and 5000 inhabitants. Remnants of this period include the beginnings of the Almedina, Arrabalde and the fortified palace used by the city's governor (which was later converted into the Royal Palace by the early Portuguese monarchs). The Christian Reconquista forced the Banu Dānis and the other Muslims to abandon the region temporarily. Successively the Moors retook the castle in 987–1064 and again in 1116, capturing two castles constructed to protect the territory: in Miranda da Beira (where the garrison was slaughtered) and in Santa Eulália (where the governor rendered his forces rather than facing a similar massacre).[1]

Middle Ages
Medieval houses "sobrado" in Coimbra.

The reconquest of the territory was attained in 1064 by King Ferdinand I of León and Castile, who appointed Dom Sisnando Davides to reorganize the economy and administer the lands encircling the city. The County of Portucale and the County of Coimbra were later integrated into one dominion under the stewardship of Henry of Burgundy by Alfonso VI of León and Castile in 1096, when Henry married Alfonso's illegitimate daughter Theresa. Henry expanded the frontiers of the County, confronting the Moorish forces, and upon his death in 1112, Theresa, Countess of Portucale and Coimbra, unified her possessions. Their son, Afonso Henriques, who took up residence in the ancient seat of the Christian County of Coimbra, sent expeditions to the south and west, consolidating a network of castles that included Leiria, Soure, Rabaçal, Alvorge and Ansião.[1]

The Manueline façade of the Monastery of Santa Cruz, final resting place of the first Portuguese monarch (Afonso Henriques).

During the 12th century, Afonso Henriques administered an area of fertile lands with river access and protected by a fortified city, whose population exceeded 6000 inhabitants, including magnates, knights and high clergy. The young Infante encouraged the construction of his seat, funding the Santa Cruz Monastery (the most important Portuguese monastic institution at the time, founded in 1131 by Theotonius), promoted the construction of the Old Cathedral, reconstructed the original Roman bridge in 1132, and repaired and renovated fountains, kilns, roads and stone pavements, as well as the walls of the old city. In order to confirm and reinforce the power of the concelho (municipality) he conceded a formal foral (charter) in 1179.

Already in the Middle Ages, Coimbra was divided into an upper city (Cidade Alta or Almedina), where the aristocracy and the clergy lived, and the merchant, artisan and labour centres in the lower city (Arrabalde or Cidade Baixa) by the Mondego River, in addition to the old and new Jewish quarters. The city was encircled by a fortified wall, of which some remnants are still visible like the Almedina Gate (Porta da Almedina).

Monastery of Santa Clara-a-Velha, refounded in 1314 by Queen Elizabeth of Portugal as a convent of Poor Clares in the parish of Santa Clara

Meanwhile, on the periphery, the municipality began to grow in various agglomerations, notably around the monasteries and convents that developed in Celas, Santa Clara, Santo António dos Olivais. The most important work in Gothic style in the city is the Monastery of Santa Clara-a-Velha, founded on the left side of the river Mondego by Queen Elizabeth of Portugal in the first half of the 14th century. It stood too close to the river, and frequent floods forced the nuns to abandon it in the 17th century, when the Monastery of Santa Clara-a-Nova was built uphill. The Queen's magnificent Gothic tomb was also transferred to the new convent. The ruins of the old convent were excavated in the 2000s, and can be seen today on the left bank of the river.

The interior stacks of the Joanine Library, one of the oldest collections in Portugal

In the 15th and 16th centuries, during the Age of Discovery, Coimbra was again one of the main artistic centres of Portugal thanks to both local and royal patronage. Coimbra bishops, religious orders and King Manuel I supported artists like Diogo Pires (father and son), Marcos Pires, João de Castilho, Diogo de Castilho and the Frenchmen, João de Ruão and Nicholas of Chanterene, among others, who left important Manueline and Renaissance works in the town. Dating from this period are the remodelling (in Manueline style) of the Santa Cruz Monastery, including the tombs of Kings Afonso Henriques and Sancho I, the Renaissance Manga Fountain, and the altarpieces and triumphal portal of the Old Cathedral, among other works.

The University of Coimbra, was founded as a Studium Generale in Lisbon in 1290 by King Dinis I. The University was relocated to Coimbra in 1308, but in 1338 King D. Afonso IV returned the University to Lisbon. The University was definitively transferred to the premises of Coimbra Royal Palace in 1537 by King John III, and expanded by 1544 to occupy the Coimbra Royal Palace. Since then, city life has revolved around the state-run university. For many decades, several colleges (colégios) established by the religious orders provided an alternative to the official institution, but were gradually discontinued with the secularization of education in Portugal. Built in the 18th century, the Joanina Library (Biblioteca Joanina), a Baroque library, is another notable landmark of the ancient university. The Baroque University Tower (Torre da Universidade), from the school of the German architect Ludovice and built between 1728 and 1733, is the city's library.

Baroque and modern
Rural life in the periphery and parishes of Coimbra around 1839, seen from the fields of São Martinho do Bispo

In 1772, the Marquis of Pombal, prime minister of King José I, undertook a major reform of the university, where the study of the sciences assumed vast importance. The collections of scientific instruments and material acquired then are now gathered in the Science Museum of the University of Coimbra, and constitute one of the most important historical science collections in Europe. However, his desire to modernise the university resulted in the complete demolition of Coimbra's medieval city walls and castle. Very little, of which remains today.[4]

The first half of the 19th century was a difficult period for Coimbra, being invaded by French troops under the command of Andoche Junot and André Masséna during the Peninsular War. A force of 4,000 Portuguese militia led by Nicholas Trant dealt Masséna a heavy blow when it recaptured the city on 6 October 1810. In March 1811, the militia successfully held the place against the retreating French army. The city recovered in the second half of the 19th century with infrastructure improvements like the telegraph, gas light, the railway system, a railway bridge over the Mondego River and the renovation of the Portela bridge, in addition to the broadening of roads and expansion of the city into the Quinta de Santa Cruz.

The Church of Santo António dos Olivais, in the parish of the same name.

By 1854, with the expulsion of the religious orders and municipal reforms, the need to reorganize the municipality of Coimbra forced some changes in the existing structure of the administrative divisions. Consequently, documents were sent (on 20 January 1854) to the Ministries of Ecclesiastical Affairs (Portuguese: Ministério dos Negócios Eclesiásticos) and Justice (Portuguese: Ministério de Justiça) urging the identification by the Civil Governor and Archbishop of Coimbra (Manuel Bento Rodrigues) of the number of civil parishes to preserve, their limits, the political organs to be retained, a local census and other statistics to justify the demarcation of the territory.[5] A commission of five members, which included João Maria Baptista Callixto, António dos Santos Pereira Jardim, Roque Joaquim Fernandes Thomás, João Correia Ayres de Campos and António Egypcio Quaresma Lopes de Carvalho e Vasconcelos, was appointed to produce a plan to reduce, suppress, demarcate and establish civil parishes in the city of Coimbra and its suburbs.[5]


On 1 January 1911, electric tramways were inaugurated to connect the old quarter with its expanding periphery, which included the residential areas of Celas, Olivais, Penedo da Saudade and Calhabé, all located in the civil parish of Santo António dos Olivais. This was only the initiation of the municipality growth. Civil construction projects throughout the region marked the economic activity of the territory, with new areas such as Montes Claros, Arregaça, Cumeada and Calhabé growing in the shadow of the city. Even projects that had been planned at the end of the 19th century gained new initiative, including the expansion of the Santa Cruz neighbourhood (bairro), the demolition of the residential area of the Alta de Coimbra (1940–50) to expand the university, and construction or expansion of the bairros of Celas, Sete Fontes and Marechal Carmona (now the bairro of Norton de Matos).

^ a b c d David J.J. Evans, Cadogan Guides Portugal (2004), ISBN 9781860111266, p.221 ^ Heráldica, Coimbra City Hall ^ Bellezas de Coimbra by António Moniz Barreto Corte-Real. Coimbra, Real Imprensa da Universidade, 1831. ^ "Coimbra Castle History". Retrieved 4 April 2020. ^ a b Silva, José Manuel Azevedo (2011), Câmara Municipal (ed.), A criação da freguesia de Santo António dos Olivais: Visão Histórica e Perspectivas Actuais (PDF) (in Portuguese), Santo António dos Olivias (Coimbra), Portugal: Câmara Municipal de Santo António dos Olivais, archived from the original (PDF) on 20 December 2011, retrieved 5 September 2011, p. 2-3
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