Coimbra which is about 30 minutes from Casa Azul sits majestically on the hillside above the Mondego River. Coimbra, once the capital of Portugal (1131 to 1255), is now a vibrant university town.
Its importance grew during the Roman occupation of Portugal (when it was known as Aeminium), but survived as town and administrative centre long after the abandonment of the nearby Roman settlement of Conimbriga because of its geographical, academic and cultural importance.
Coimbra with its river provides a crossroads between Braga in the north, Lisbon in the south, the costal town of Figueira de Foz in the west and the interior towns to the east. Its importance as a centre of academic and cultural influence was guaranteed by the establishment in 1290 of its university, Universidade de Coimbra. The university is the oldest academic institution in the Portuguese-speaking world. Its historical buildings, the Biblioteca Joanina and its 18th-century bell tower, were established as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2013.
In the city’s old town lies the beautifully preserved 12th-century Romanesque Roman Catholic cathedral, Sé Velha de Coimbra. Construction of the Sé Velha began some time after the Battle of Ourique (1139), when Prince Alfonso Henriques declared himself King of Portugal and chose Coimbra as his capital. During his time he protected the city with a fortified wall, remnants of which can still be seen today (Porta da Almedina), funded the building of the Santa Cruz Monastery (the most important Portuguese monastic institution at the time, founded in 1131), reconstructed the original Roman bridge, as well as renovating and reconstructing many of the cities fountains, roads and stone pavements.
Throughout the Middle Ages, Renaissance, Baroque and modern eras Coimbra has grown and developed to become Portugal’s fourth largest urban centre with a population of over 143,000. Its historical buildings, churches, shopping centre, university, cultural activities, cafés and restaurants make Coimbra well worth a visit.