Coimbra Brings the Past to Life with Striking Buildings and the World’s Best Library

The Joanine Library is one of the world's most beautiful collection of books.
The Joanine Library is one of the world’s most beautiful collection of books.

 

View of the city from the University Tower.
View of the city from the University Tower.

After a day touring the historic sites of Coimbra, Portugal, my head is swimming with the stunning works, buildings and monuments of this city of 120,000 in the central part of the country.

As a travel writer, museums are pretty much a part of every trip I take, yet I came away from today’s tour dazzled by the hands of man and what they built over the centuries here.

Our first stop was the Machado de Castro National Museum, which has century upon century built in layers. Excavations reveal the original use of the site which was a large Roman domus, or a rich citizen’s home. We saw the original sewer system of pipes that got rid of waste, and the small stone rooms used for food storage. Then as we progressed our tour we came to three-dimensional, life-size sculptures by Jean de Rouen, who was credited for bringing the Renaissance to Coimbra.

This city was once Portugal’s capital, and great riches are evident when we saw the striking Joanine Library, which could be the world’s most elegant and beautiful collection of books. We learned that a colony of bats helps keep the moths and book-eating bugs at bay. They come out

Joanine Library on the Coimbra University campus.
Details of bookshelves in the library.

at night to sweep through the high ceilinged room, and have small holes to get out of the building. The museum tour winds up through history and we see Baroque, neo classical and Renaissance styles combined with elements from ancient Roman times, and it’s all right next to a very modern building that houses the Loggia restaurant.

We climbed through progressively narrower and narrower stairs until we reached the top of the University Tower.  The sweep of the city on a sunny day revealed the beautiful bridge over the Mondego River and the pedestrian/bike path that will be extended into the area at the top of the photo.

Below the museum are these Roman ruins which were once a patrician's house.
Below the museum are these Roman ruins which were once a patrician’s house.
Lifesize limestone sculptures by Jean de Rouen in the museum.
Lifesize limestone sculptures by Jean de Rouen in the museum.
These sculptures are like paintings but they are 3D, and the effect is breathtaking.
These sculptures are like paintings but they are 3D, and the effect is breathtaking.
Share this: