The City of Coimbra has its own very special mystique, the result of a past full of important events and of the memories of the many thousands of Portuguese who, dispersed around the country or abroad, remember the carefree, easygoing, hopeful years spent here in their youth as students at the University. Prehistoric remains are scant but allow us to establish an early human presence on the site of present-day Coimbra.
From the Roman period we have the cryptoporticus. This is situated under the former Bishop’s Palace, which now houses the Machado de Castro Museum.
With the fall of the Roman Empire came the arrival of new invaders, commonly known as barbarians: Vandals, Suevi, Alans and later Visigoths, who all left their mark on the city. In 711 the city was occupied by the Moors and remained Islamic for more than 300 years, despite brief interludes when Christian troops regained control. With the final Reconquest in 1064, by the army of Ferdinand the Great, Coimbra was ideally situated to be a point of contact between the Muslim south and the Christian north and became home to an important Mozarabic community.
As the country’s first capital for 200 years during the reigns of the earliest monarchs, Coimbra's profile was raised by the founding of the University which led to the formation of an urban nucleus full of noteworthy buildings. After 1537 there appeared numerous University colleges, and two areas – next to the Royal Palace in the upper town and in the Rua da Sofia (lower town) – were set aside for learning.
In the 18th century Coimbra maintained its academic vocation, which was strengthened by the Marquis of Pombal’s reform of the University. The new buildings resulting from this reform changed the appearance and structure of the university campus, giving new importance to Natural and Experimental Science.
The 19th century was a period of considerable growth in population giving rise to new streets and residential areas, in particular the development of the estates belonging to the Sta. Cruz Monastery.
The 20th century saw many more great changes to the city with the building of the new university campus which obliged the residents of the upper town to be moved to new residential districts. In the 1990s the city expanded towards Vale das Flores and Boavista, where the University’s second campus (Polo II) was built on the right bank of the River Mondego. Dedicated to Science and Technology, this features buildings by some of the best-known contemporary architects. A third campus (Polo III) dedicated to the Life Sciences has been built near the University Hospitals in the Celas area.
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Getting around the city
The main points of interest in the historic city center can be visited on foot, starting at Coimbra station, the main car-parks and the more central hotels. Many of the streets linking the upper and lower parts of town (the Alta and the Baixa) are quite steep, so some visitors may have problems with an uphill walk. The riverside parks are also pleasant places for walking. Many shopping streets in the center are traffic-free.
The city’s hills may make cycling difficult in places, but in the riverside parks there are flat areas for easy pedaling. At weekends the city council rents out bicycles in the Parque Verde do Mondego.
The Basófias runs trips on the River Mondego. Canoes and pedals can also be hired.
Traffic in Coimbra can flow relatively smoothly, but parking in the center is scarce and often expensive. In the University area parking is practically impossible. For short stays, it’s advisable to use one of the many underground car-parks in the city center. For a longer stay, use one of the free riverside car-parks, such as the one on the Santa Clara side of the river.
Coimbra’s taxis are available by telephone or from taxi-ranks. There is a fixed initial charge, plus a fee depending on the length of the journey, shown on the taximeter.
Coimbra has a good urban transport network (SMTUC) with daily tickets for tourists. There is also the Funtastic, a panoramic bus which visits the city’s main points of interest.
Other city transport services from SMTUC
The Market Elevator. Monday to Saturday (07.30-22.00), Sunday and public holidays (10.00-22.00). The lift functions as one of the city’s regular means of transport. Passengers can use it with any type of city transport (SMTUC) ticket or pass. Portuguese citizens over 60, and residents of the Alta, can use the lift free, on production of their identity or residence cards.
Pantufinhas (Blue Line). Weekdays (08.45-13.00/14.45-19.00), Saturday (09.15-13.15). An electric bus that runs through the historic city center, connecting the Alta and the Baixa (upper & lower areas) and passing through the medieval heart of the city. Passengers can signal to get on and off where they want. Any type of city transport (SMTUC) ticket or pass is valid on this bus.
Fun(tastic) Coimbra - Panoramic Sightseeing Tours. A panoramic trip in an open-top double-decker bus, passing the most interesting spots in the city, including viewpoints and historic places. Lasting 1 hour, with recorded information in Portuguese, English, German, French, Italian and Spanish.
Seasonal, running mainly around Easter and in the Summer; organized and managed jointly by SMTUC and CarrisTur. Tickets are valid for the whole day, so passengers can get on and off at various points. Tickets are also valid for the same day on local SMTUC buses. As information may change in the course of the year, current data may be obtained from this site: www.smtuc.pt.
These informations are also available at the Coimbra’s Tourism website: www.turismodecoimbra.pt