The focal point for most visitors to Coimbra is the University of Coimbra, established here in 1537 on orders of João III. Among its alumni are Luís Vas de Camões (the country's greatest poet, author of the national epic, Os Lusíadas), St. Anthony of Padua (also the patron saint of Lisbon), and the late Portuguese dictator, Dr. Salazar, once a professor of economics.
Ignore the cold statuary and architecture on Largo de Dom Dinis and pass under the 17th-century Porta Pérrea into the inner core. The steps on the right take you along a cloistered arcade, Via Latina, to the Sala dos Capelos, the site of graduation ceremonies. Inside you'll find a twisted rope ceiling, a portrait gallery of Portuguese kings, red-damask walls, and the inevitable azulejos (tiles). Afterward you can visit the University Chapel, decorated with an 18th-century organ, 16th-century candelabra, a painted ceiling, 17th-century tiles, and a fine Manueline portal.
The architectural gem of the entire town is the Biblioteca Geral da Universidade (University Library), also at Largo de Dom Dinis. Established between 1716 and 1723 and donated by João V, the library shelters more than a million volumes. The interior consists of a trio of high-ceilinged salons walled by two-story tiers of lacquer-decorated bookshelves. The pale jade and sedate lemon marble inlaid floors complement the baroque decorations of gilded wood. Chinese-style patterns have been painted on emerald, red, and gold lacquer work. The library tables are built of ebony and lustrous rosewood, imported from the former Portuguese colonies in India and Brazil. The three-dimensional ceilings and zooming telescopic effect of the room's structure focus on the large portrait of João V, set against imitation curtains in wood.
You might want to save the library for last; after viewing this masterpiece, other sights in town pale by comparison. To wind down after leaving the library, walk to the end of the belvedere for a panoramic view of the river and the rooftops of the old quarter. On the square you'll see a statue of João III and the famous curfew-signaling clock of Coimbra, known as cabra (goat).
- © Frommer's 2013
- Highly Recommended 2010
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- Largo de Dom Dinis
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