Portuguese Coimbra is a town, where burning ribbons is a great holiday. In the past served as the capital of the country, and today tempts with the charm of the old universities, the seed bank and the Garden of Tears. What else?
Coimbra is the third largest city in Portugal. It’s really famous for its large number of students, and its university is the oldest school in the country. The building of Universidade de Coimbra cannot be missed – it dominates the city, nobly standing on top of the hill. The city itself is cuddled at its feet, gently cut by the ribbon of Mondego, called the River of Poets.
A feast of burning ribbons
A scholar atmosphere can be felt throughout the Coimbra - not only in May, when there’s a great fiesta held, called Queima das Fitas, which means Burning Ribbons. It’s like a yearly student carnival, to which the city (especially students) is preparing a few months earlier. It consists of a great parade of decorated cars, trucks, concerts, a lot of fun and dancing. The name comes from the ritual celebrated by the students of penultimate year. It takes place on the square in front of the baroque cathedral Se Nova, and during it people symbolically burn ribbons in seven colors. Each color is assigned to another department. For example, red ribbons are burned by law students, and purple – by pharmacy students.
The event lasts for a week, and it starts with fado - songs full of reflection and meditation. They resound at midnight and can be heard for about 2 hours. They can be sun only by men chosen by the students body, headed by Dux Veteranum, the oldest (if not to say: eternal) university student. The stairs of Sé Velha cathedral are besieged from the late afternoon, and in the evening people flood streets leading to the cathedral square. During fiestas the city’s teeming with music and rumble, changing into a giant open-air festival.
Attractions of the city
Coimbra attracts tourists not only in May. Its most important monuments - apart from same university – include several charming temples, such as Sé Velha, called the Old Cathedral due to the fact that it’s the oldest church cathedral in Portugal. A little bit crude in the construction, inside delights with colorful and richly carved altar. Equally captivate are its cloisters, where you can admire the university complex.
Speaking of Coimbra, we cannot omit the university’s symbol, which is the Goat Tower (Torre de Cabra). It can be seen from almost every point of the city. In the past, the distinctive sound of the bell tower was a sign for students that it’s time to go to classes.
It’s worth visiting the interiors of Santa Cruz Church, founded in the twelfth century. It’s decorated with Manueline cloisters, and in Memorias de Santa Crus you can find an impressive collection of paintings, reliquaries, silvers and statues. You should know that in the temple are the remains of the first two kings of Portugal.
Tribute to a loved one
In the south-eastern part of the city there’s a park Quinta das Lágrimas ("The Garden of Tears"), which is connected with the history of Ines de Castro, King Alfonso IV son’s beloved girl. She was executed on the orders of the ruler, who wished to finish prince’s romance in this way. After the death of his father, Pedro had exhumed Ines’ corpse, crowned her and seated her next to him on the throne, forcing subjects to pay homage.
Another interesting place is the botanical garden stretching over an area of 13 hectares. Jardim Botânico da Universidade de Coimbra was founded in the eighteenth century. It’s famous for its huge collection of tropical trees, the seed bank and floristic research.
Where to stay?
Tourists, who would like to spend more time in the city, can stay at Coimbra Camping. It’s located on the outskirts, and a night stay on it costs approx. 4-6 euros. For a parking space for motorhome you will pay 5-8 euros.
It’s really worth to visit Coimbra when traveling through the country of porto and bacalhau, the more that it’s a very good starting point for other attractive places of the region.