Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Coimbra - Day 8

Monday, June 13, 2016
Although we had our first day of intermittent rain, we did not allow it to spoil our time in this university city.
We started with a drive across the Santa Clara Bridge, an important link across the   Mondega River since Roman times. It also gave us an excellent view of the city with the university on top of the hill.
Then we passed by the Largo da Portagem with its turn of the last century architecture.

Our bus took us up to the university, founded in 1290 and the third oldest in Europe. Today there are about 25,000 students (60% women and 40% men.) The university in Lisbon is larger but this one is the most prestigious in the country. 
Like many similar institutions, it is spread out over the hilltop, but there were several sights worthy of our time. The main building was once a palace from the time when Coimbra was the capital.
It was donated to the school by King John III in the 1500's when he established the school permanently here.
To the right of the courtyard is the Grand Hall, straight ahead is St. Michael's Chapel
and to the left is King John's Library. 
The Grand Hall is the site of the university's major academic ceremonies, oral exams and graduation. Loved the ceiling.
From here we were able to go out on a narrow observation deck where we took great photos of the city below. 
The bridge behind me is the Santa Clara, which is also on the Portuguese Camino. 
We could see at least 180 degrees.
I'm sorry. I just couldn't resist snapping selfies with this view.

Then we visited St. Michael's Chapel. It was started in 1517 and has a Manueline influence.
 The 2,100-pipe, 18th-century organ is notable for its trumpet pipes.
Next was King John's Library. There are 60,000 books from the 17th and 18th centuries, most written in Latin. We were not allowed to take photos because they keep the place very dark and limit the number of visitors due to humidity (people breathing apparently is not good for the books.) They also have resident bats who live in the building to eat insects that would otherwise damage the books.
Then we drove to a tile factory on the outskirts of town to learn how the beautiful pottery and tile work is made.
We saw women painting the intricate designs,

the molds (of which they have over 2,200),
the process for removing items from the molds,
and the firing. Then we painted our own tiles which will be fired and we will receive later.
Since it was raining, our bus took us to the town square for free time. One of the other travelers, Laura, and I decided to tour some old churches and have lunch. We went to the Church of Santiago,
which is on the Camino and dates to the 12th century. It is very austere both inside and out.
Then we went to the Church of Santa Cruz. It is noteworthy for its 18th-century tiles on the walls.

The first King of Portugal Alfonso Henriques (1095-1185) is buried here.
We saw a number of nuns in elaborate habits in Coimbra and in the church while we were there.
Laura and I had lunch at Jardim da Manga, recommended by Rick Steves. Afterwards we parted company and I decided to do Rick's loop around the city. It took me up to the university and then down through some different streets.
I looked in some shops and then headed to the hotel.
Tonight we went to another Fado show at Casa Fado Ao Centro. Their performance is known as Coimbra Fado, which originates from nighttime serenades by university students. Two different young men sang while 2 other men played the Portuguese guitar and the 6-string guitar.
It was both operatic and lyrical and quite entertaining. It was a lovely way to end our stay in this quaint city.

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