The ancient and beautiful University City
While Coimbra is not as large a city as Lisbon or Porto (population around 150.000), it has comparable cultural and historical significance. Known in Roman times as Aeminium, in the 6th century it became the see of a bishop, and in the 12th century was the first capital of the recently formed Portuguese kingdom.
The University, one of the oldest in Europe, has always been (and continues to be), a key element in the town´s social and cultural life. The rich history of the city is evidenced by the many fine buildings it possesses.
The University Library
The most famous among the many monumental buildings that Coimbra owes to the University is the Old Library, built 1716-23 and modelled after the Court Library in Vienna (Joao V's queen, Ana Maria, was Austrian). With it´s great unity in exterior, interior and decoration, it is a magnificent example of the baroque style. Around 300.000 books and manuscripts, all dating from before 1800, are still kept here.
You can visit the library.
The Old Cathedral
Among the many monuments in Coimbra the Sé Velha (Old Cathedral) takes a special place, because of it´s ancient origins. Despite the many alterations and additions during the course of the centuries, it stills retains it´s basic 12th century structure.
It´s plain, fortress-like exterior with a massive doorway, as well as it´s perfectly designed three-aisle interior, make it the best example of the Romanesque style in Portugal.
The Fado of Coimbra
The Fado of Coimbra bears a close instrumental resemblance to the Fado that is sung in Lisbon. Its lyrics, however, have become more erudite and it displays a different spatial quality, with a different kind of vocal effect. The Fado of Coimbra was developed by university students, bringing with them their guitars and a different way of singing.
They found Fado the ideal vehicle for preserving the memories of student life, singing about unrequited love and nights spent without sleep, or serenading their sweethearts from under the window.
In fact, it is only the males in the student population who sing Fado, dressed in their traditional academic costume of black suits and thick gowns.
The best time for listening to them is during the Queima das Fitas, the traditional festival held in May to mark the end of the academic year. The Noite da Serenata, when serenades are sung outside the entrance to the city’s old cathedral, is also a moment of great local emotion.