Great Discoveries at the University of Coimbra, Portugal

January 26, 2020

Coimbra is a bustling college town anchored by the University of Coimbra. The University was founded in 1290, and is considered to be the oldest university in continuous operation in the world. It is on the UNESCO World Heritage list. For the first 200 years, the University alternated between Coimbra and Lisbon. In 1537, King John III permanently located it Coimbra. The campus, home to approximately 25,000 students, and specializes in letters, law, medical, technology, pharmacy, economics, psychology and sports sciences.

Our main objective was to visit the three main areas of the campus: The Ceremonial Hall, the Bibliotheca Joanina and Saint Michael’s Chapel. The ticket to visit these attractions cost €12 pp. we also spent quite a bit of time exploring the Universities Botanical Gardens that are located next to the campus.

Statue of King John III who established the University in Coimbra permanently.
Mosaic featuring Minerva the Roman Goddess of Wisdom that greets you at the entrance gate.
Courtyard view of the University.

The Ceremonial Hall

The Ceremonial Hall was originally called the Throne Hall. The ceiling consists of intricately painted wooden shapes that create a spectacular upward view. The walls are adorned with paintings of all of Portugal’s Kings. Currently, the school holds most of its ceremonies, PhD oral exams and the formal opening of the new school year in this Hall.

Hand painted wooden ceiling of the Ceremonial Hall.

Bibliotheca Joanina

To visit the library you must show up at exactly the time provided on your ticket. You enter through the bottom floor that was used as an academic prison. You then make your way to the second floor to view the special collection of books as you wait to be called to the third floor that contains the main shelves of the library.

The main book hall was built with wooden shelves, walls and floors, 2 meter thick surrounding walls and a teak door create the perfect humidity controlled rooms. Believe it or not, when the library is closed each evening, the tables are covered to protect them from the bats. Yes, bats! The bats work at night eating insects that would be detrimental to the books. Believe it or not! Since the library houses some extremely rare volumes, the elimination of insects and moths is crucial.

You are only allowed 10 minutes in the third level and The University doesn’t allow pictures in this part of the library. So, in order to see how beautiful it is, you need to visit it yourself or visit TripAdvisor for travelers pics. It was truly an amazing visit.

Front view of the Bibliotheca Joanina

Saint Michael’s Chapel

The building that houses the Chapel was built in the late 15th century. The alter of the chapel is Our Lady of Light and she is the patron saint of students. The walls of the chapel are covered in tiles and the ceiling is magnificently painted.

The organ is a major piece of art. This 2,000 pipe beauty is covered in gold leaf and chinoiserie and is a sight to behold. It was installed in 1733 and continues to be used to this day. The docent shared with us that it was overbuilt for the chapel and you won’t have any problems hearing it during a service. Mass services are performed in this chapel weekly.

The nave and ceiling of the Chapel.
The glorious organ of the Chapel.

The Cape

The cape is awarded to students after they have completed their first year at the University and have gone through the “rush” process. It’s a proud moment to receive your cape as it is a symbol of belonging to the University and the student body.

They capes were designed after the outfits that the monks wore as a designation of influence on education. Each major university has their own insignia that differentiates them from each other. The clothing they wear underneath the cape is designated by guidelines for men and women.

A young lady proudly poses in her new cape.