Portugal, The University and Cathedrals of Coimbra

I liked the IBIS hotel in Coimbra and I especially liked the breakfast, it wasn’t expensive but it was expansive and I probably managed to eat rather more than I should have.

In between return trips to the buffet table we debated our options for the day.  I wanted to return to the University and take the tours but Kim wasn’t keen so we compromised.  I would go to the University in the morning and Kim would find the shops and then we would meet later for lunch.

So we left the hotel and at the busy square went our separate ways and I made the climb to the top for a second time.  I went straight to the University to purchase my ticket because visits are timed and I wanted to get in there early.  I needn’t have panicked because early in the morning it wasn’t that busy and I bought a ticket for fifteen minutes later.

I purchased the tour which included the Joanina Library and took my place in the line of people waiting for the same time slot.

Built in the eighteenth century it is a National Monument and has priceless historical value being the main tourist attraction in Coimbra.  The building has three floors and contains about two hundred and fifty thousand volumes and being someone who loves books this place is a little bit of heaven.  The collection dates from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries and represents the finest works from Europe at the time on the subjects of medicine, geography, history, science, law, philosophy and theology.

For old books they are in remarkably good condition, I have books in my own collection which are barely thirty years old and are badly foxed and falling apart.  This is the result of strict atmospheric control, nothing modern however just down to the original construction, thick exterior walls and bookcases which are made of oak which is a dense wood that prevents boring insects from taking up residence.  The books are also protected by a small colony of bats that live in the building and during the night consume the insects that appear that might otherwise damage the collection.

The downside is that the bats make a nasty mess and that is why the library doesn’t open until eleven o’clock.  I won’t go into unnecessary details here.

Joanina Library Coimbra University

For such a famous building the tour was over really rather quickly, rather disappointing really, the main library room, down to a study room and some exhibits and then down again to some grim cells where in the past misbehaving students were sent to reflect and repent.  They don’t use them any more because I guess they would be full to overcrowding every night.

The tour included entrance to an ornate chapel which didn’t really strike me as anything particularly special and then the old Royal Apartments which are now the main celebration and awards ceremony rooms for the University where there were some fine views from the top across the whole of the city and beyond.

After the University my ticket was good for entrance to the Science Museum just a short walk away and determined to get full value for my purchase I went there next.  I am not really all that keen on science, at school in 1970 I failed every single science ‘o’ level – chemistry, physics, biology, chemistry with physics and physics with chemistry – the list was endless.  The following year I had a shot at the allegedly much easier subject of General Science which it was said that a ten year old with a toy chemistry set could pass but I failed that as well.

chemistry set

After ‘o’ level and if you were staying on at school students were separated into sixth form Arts and sixth form Science.  I didn’t have to spend very much time deliberating the matter!

The only thing I ever really liked about science was the Science Museum in London and I remember going there several times as a boy, unfortunately the Science Museum in Coimbra wasn’t nearly so interesting so it didn’t detain me for long.  Next to it was a Natural History museum which had an enormous collection of stuffed animals which I imagine can only be of great interest to a taxidermist so I didn’t stay there very long either.

Instead I made my way down from the top of the hill to rendezvous with Kim as arranged stopping briefly on the way down to visit the old (Romanesque) and the new (Portuguese Colonial) cathedrals, nothing special about either of them but both worth a courtesy visit.

Coimbra Cathedrals

Back at the river we met as planned and stopped for a brief lunch before taking an afternoon stroll along both sides of the river with good views of the old city of Coimbra especially from the west bank.

I was dreading the next job which was to go and buy railway tickets for the next stage of our journey to the city of Ovar just south of Porto.  I thought that it was quite likely that I would explode with impatient rage if I had to queue at one of those awful ticket machines but it was a lot more civilized in Coimbra and there was a proper ticket office and no great line of people.  I bought the tickets and went for a beer in the sunshine  to celebrate.

Later we went back to the same restaurant and over a second excellent meal we declared the whole visit to Coimbra to be a complete success and we looked forward to the next day and three days and nights at the Atlantic Coast and the seaside down of Furadouro.

41 responses to “Portugal, The University and Cathedrals of Coimbra

  1. It sounds as if Coimbra is a much nicer place than Lisbon. Science teaching in the 60s was often of a very low standard and I don’t think they bothered too much with the non-high flyers. Lots of teachers in that decade were very old and they may have struggled with the youngsters of that era.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Odd thing though John, I thought I was pretty good at science and I was seriously shocked by my results that year. I failed maths as well and it took two more attempts to pass that one! Happily I was good at History and English.

      Impossible to compare Lisbon and Coimbra, I liked them both, in fact I liked everywhere that we visited on this holiday.


  2. We visited Coimbra with one goal – to find Quinta das Lagrimas Palace or Estate of Tears where the nobles who accompanied Afonso IV knifed Inés de Castro right in front of her children (grandsons of Afonso IV). It was an episode of well known love story.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. both places look interesting for different reasons. what an interesting note about the bats and the books.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Loving the bat fact – who knew they could be so handy in a library!!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Most fascinating about the bats!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. “Grim cells where in the past misbehaving students were sent to reflect and repent.” Now that would have been handy when I worked in a university library!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Miss your morning prayers and down to the dungeon you would go! Turn your homework in late, down to the dungeon, sass a teacher, down to the dungeon. I can see where it would have been useful. Or miscreants could have been put to work cleaning up the bat poop in the library. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. We put up bat houses in order to keep the bug population within bounds. Seems as though they didn’t quite keep up with the mosquito population last summer though. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Coimbra has been on my list for a while, it has headed to the top now!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. That library looks like a place I’d be happy to be lost in.
    Pity you didn’t tell us what you had to eat at that breakfast, not having a stomach the food consumed by those that do interests me greatly, it must have been pretty good to keep going back for more.
    I always like the old English idea of a decent breakfast. Kippers, kidneys and bacon……. real food.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. You do find some interesting facts, Andrew, so you might not have made a scientist but you’re a great researcher. 🙂 🙂 You seem to rate Coimbra highly yet the outings in this post don’t seem to’ve been anything special?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I hope that I didn’t give the wrong impression. I found it to be a little understated, no single thing stands out for me but taken and put all together it is a wonderful place and I really enjoyed it.


      • No, that’s fine- I just wanted to clarify. I like places like that too, and Portugal does them rather well. 🙂 🙂


      • I will give you a sneak preview. I am going to wrap this up at the end of the sequence of posts but of all the places we visited (Lisbon, Tomar, Coimbra, Ovar, Porto and Guimarães) my favourite was Tomar. What a lovely place, so many little gems to discover, wonderful hotel, great food and the good fortune to happen upon a street parade.
        Next time…

        Liked by 1 person

  12. Your post is awesome. I can’t wait to read more of your writing in your blog. Thank you for sharing this with us.


  13. On second thought, maybe we didn’t miss a lot when we did not visit the Cathedrals … but it would have been nice, I guess.


  14. Pingback: Portugal – Mafra and World Heritage Sites | Have Bag, Will Travel

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