Rua do Quebra Costas: encapsulating the essence of Coimbra, Uncategorized

Rua do Quebra Costas: encapsulating the essence of Coimbra

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‘A Tricana de Coimbra’, Rua do Quebra Costas, Coimbra

A street that connects the lower part of the original walled city of Coimbra with the higher part has the witty name of Rua do Quebra Costas (Back-breaking Street), due to the steepness of the hill (despite the addition of steps in the nineteenth century to ease the climb, allegedly at the instigation of writer and former alumnus of Coimbra University Almeida Garrett). It is in one of the historically important areas of Coimbra, linking a medieval arch with the Sé Velha (Old Cathedral) and including two sculptures that embody Coimbra.

At the bottom of the hill is a Manueline archway, the Porta da Barbacã (Barbican Gate), which as the name suggests, was the outer defence of the old walled city. On the front of the arch is the royal coat of arms and a sculpture of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus.

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Porta da Barbacã, Coimbra

A little further up the hill is a second arch, the eleventh-century Arco de Almedina, which was part of the original city wall and has a bas-relief image of the Virgin Mary with the baby Jesus on the interior of the arch, with the royal coat of arms and the Coimbra coat of arms either side of it. This second arch leads into the Rua do Quebra Costas.

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Arco de Almedina, Coimbra

Just after the Arco de Almedina is the first of two sculptures in homage to Coimbra, a fado guitarra, sculpted by Alves André in bronze in 2013. The sculpture conveys Coimbra as a woman with a small teardrop-shaped head and the body of a guitarra standing on an academic gown with flowers beneath her.

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Fado guitarra sculpture, Rua do Quebra Costas, Coimbra

A little further up the hill is the Fado ao Centro, a fado centre that offers an introduction to Coimbra fado.

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Fado ao Centro, Coimbra

Coimbra fado is different from Lisbon fado in several ways. While Lisbon fado is focussed on the singer who conveys the message through the emotion they express in their dramatic performance, Coimbra fado is more linked to the university and generally performed by male-only students and graduates dressed in their academic gowns. In Coimbra fado the guitarra takes a central role. The instrument is different to that played in Lisbon fado, being smaller with a distinctive teardrop-shaped decoration at the head and having a slightly different sound. The lyrics cover themes of love and student life, but are also often about the city of Coimbra. Lines from Coimbra fado songs are inscribed on the sculpture:

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Fado guitarra sculpture, Rua do Quebra Costas, Coimbra

Coimbra é de Portugal
Como a flor é do jardim
Como a estrela é do céu
Como a saudade é de mim.
(Coimbra is of Portugal
As the flower is of the garden
As the star is of the sky
As the yearning is of me.)
(From Coimbra, Menina e Moça (Coimbra, Girl and Young Woman))

Do Choupal até à Lapa
Foi Coimbra os meus amores
A sombre da minha capa
Deu no chão abriu em flores.
(From Choupal to Lapa
Coimbra was my loves
The shade of my cape
Became the ground covered with flowers.)
(From Ó Coimbra do Mondego’)

Coimbra terra de encanto
Fundo mistério é o seu
Chega a ter saudades dela
Quem nunca nela viveu.
(Coimbra land of charm
Yours is a deep mystery
Those who never lived there
Come to yearn for it.)
(From Coimbra, Rio Mondego )

A little further up the hill is the second of the sculptures, ‘A Tricana de Coimbra’ (The Woman of Coimbra) also by Alves André, 2008, which depicts a seated woman in bronze, dressed in traditional clothes of shawl, headscarf and apron and holding an amphora of water.

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‘A Tricana de Coimbra’, Rua do Quebra Costas, Coimbra

Tricana’ was the name given to the working-class women of Coimbra, some of whom worked as water-sellers, and is an image that survives in Coimbra folklore. The plaque on the statue reads:
Cantanda Pelos Poetas
Airosa, delicada, irradiando graça e simpatia, embora o seu amor nem sempre fosse correspondido.
(Praised by the Poets
Graceful, delicate, irradiating beauty and kindness, even though her love was not always reciprocated.)

At the end of Rua do Quebra Costas is the castle-like Sé Velha (Old Cathedral), Coimbra’s original cathedral dating from the twelfth century, when Coimbra was the capital of Portugal. An incongruous renaissance portal, known as the Porta Especiosa (Specious Door), on the north facade, built by the French sculptor Jean de Rouen (known in Portugal as João de Ruão) in the sixteenth century, contrasts with the Romanesque style of the rest of the building. The Largo da Sé Velha is a good place to get your breath before continuing up the hill to the top of the city.

From the arches in the old city wall at the bottom of the Rua do Quebra Costas to the enduring cathedral at the top, by way of the sculptures paying tribute to Coimbra and the traditional women of the city, this small street encapsulates the essence of Coimbra.

Coimbra, Jardim da Manga, Coimbra: a cloister designed on a sleeve

Jardim da Manga, Coimbra: a cloister designed on a sleeve

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Jardim da Manga, Coimbra
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Jardim da Manga, Coimbra

Hidden away behind the Church of Santa Cruz on Rua Olímpio Nicolau Rui Fernandes in downtown Coimbra is a pretty little square that has the curious name of Jardim da Manga (Garden of the Sleeve). In the centre of the square is a Renaissance-style structure in yellow made up of a central fountain topped with a dome, four turret-shaped chapels, one at each corner, and water channels with small fountains running in each direction. The name allegedly comes from King João III who visited the Monastery of Santa Cruz in 1533 and drew a plan for a cloister and a garden on the sleeve of his doublet (manga means sleeve, hence the name Jardim da Manga). His design was realised under the direction of the abbot of the monastery, Friar Brás de Braga, but this building, constructed by local stonemasons, is all that has survived. It is full of Christian symbolism, representing the Fountain of Life and the four rivers that flowed from the Garden of Eden. There are gargoyles on the exterior and in each chapel are altarpieces with bas-reliefs, in a state of despair, depicting lives of various saints, sculpted by Jean de Rouen (known in Portugal as João de Ruão).

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Bas-relief inside one of the chapels, Jardim da Manga, Coimbra

Sadly, despite being a National Monument, it could clearly do with a good clean to remove the mould stains on the exterior and some renovation of the interior, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that it is a unique and charming building in a peaceful little square and one of my favourite places in Coimbra.

Coimbra, The University of Coimbra: the oldest university in Portugal

The University of Coimbra: the oldest university in Portugal

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Old university from left bank of River Mondego, Coimbra

Sitting on top of a hill above the city of Coimbra is the Paço das Escolas (Schools’ Palace), a former royal palace that houses the oldest university in Portugal, the University of Coimbra. When the university was first founded by King Dinis in 1290 it was on two sites, Coimbra and Lisbon, and stayed like that until 1537 when King João III decreed that the university should be based in Coimbra. Statues honouring both King Dinis and King João III have been erected on the campus.

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Statue of King Dinis, University of Coimbra

There has been a palace on the site of the Paço das Escolas since the late-tenth century when it was the Royal Palace of Alcáçova during the Moorish period, although the exterior of the palace dates largely from the eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries, and from 1131 it was the home of the Portuguese royal family, beginning with Afonso Henriques, later King Afonso I the first king of Portugal, at a time when Coimbra was the capital of Portugal.

The entrance to the Velha Universidade (Old University) in the Paço das Escolas is through the ornate Porta Férrea (Iron Gate) designed by António Tavares in 1634 and decorated with images of King Dinis and King João III, along with figures symbolizing the three areas of study at that time (law, medicine and theology) and at the top of the gate is a figure representing wisdom. As we approached the Porta Férrea the crowds of tourists parted long enough for me to notice the university emblem of Minerva (the Roman goddess of wisdom) holding a book and a sceptre with an armillary sphere on the top, designed in a pattern of cobbles on the ground.

The gateway leads into a large courtyard, the Pátio das Escolas, with an imposing statue of King João III looking proudly at the university buildings, sculpted by Francisco Franco in 1950, and taking pride of place in the centre of the courtyard.

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Statue of King João III, Paço das Escolas, University of Coimbra

After buying our ticket to visit the chapel, library and Great Hall, we had 30 minutes before our timed entry into the library, which gave us an opportunity to look at the intricate details on the exterior of the building, starting with the Via Latina, a walkway constructed in the 1770s, during the period of enlightenment and educational reform spearheaded by the Marquês de Pombal, who encouraged a wider range of subjects to be taught at the university. The Via Latina has a beautiful colonnaded staircase and sculptures depicting King José I alongside figures representing fortitude, justice and wisdom.

As the chapel and library were closed at that time we were able to marvel at the Manueline-style decor dating from the early-sixteenth century on the doorway of the Capela de São Miguel (Saint Michael’s Chapel), including the royal coat-of-arms, the cross of Christ and an armillary sphere, and at the doorway of the Biblioteca Joanina (Joanine Library) dating from the 1720s which was built to look like a triumphal arch, with columns and an elaborate cornice topped with a crown.

To the left of the library, and built around the same time, is the Escada de Minerva (Minerva Staircase), which is another entrance into the Pátio das Escolas, with a statue at the top of Minerva, again holding a book and sceptre. Watching over the courtyard is an early-eighteenth-century bell tower, designed by António Canevari, with a clock and four bells which regulate the start and end of each day. One of the bells (the one facing the river) is nicknamed a cabra (the goat) allegedly due to the sound it makes (but the word cabra is also a slang word with pejorative connotations and I can imagine that many a student has muttered it under his/her breath as the bell rang to start classes!). The best views of the old university and the tower are from the other side of the River Mondego, but it is also worth climbing the 184-step spiral staircase for unrestricted views of the city and beyond, including the two cathedrals (Sé Velha and Sé Nova (Old and New Cathedrals)) below and the two convents (Santa Clara-a-Velha and Santa Clara-a-Nova) on the left bank of the river, from the viewing platform at the top of the tower (be aware that you have to buy a separate ticket to do this).

Having explored the exterior, it was time to visit the first of the three interior sections of the old university, Saint Michael’s Chapel. This small chapel was built in the late-fifteenth/early-sixteenth century from a design by Marcos Pires and Diogo de Castilho, and it may be small but it was richly decorated in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and every corner of the chapel has something of interest, including the Mannerist altar built in 1605 with a statue of Nossa Senhora da Luz (Our Lady of Light, the patron saint of students) in a small altar to the left and another of Nossa Senhora da Conceição (Our Lady of the Conception, the patron saint of the university) on the right. Added to this are the beautiful late-seventeenth-century azulejo panels that cover every millimetre of wall, but the highlight is the Baroque organ built in the 1730s by Friar Manuel Gomes which is richly decorated with gold leaf and trumpet-blowing angels and which comprises 2000 pipes.

The chapel was a warm-up for the Baroque extravagence of the much-publicized Joanine Library. I had read wonderful things about it before I arrived, but was disappointed to find out that photography in the library was forbidden, so I had to try to commit everything to memory; I did buy a slightly out-of-focus postcard in the gift shop, but it didn’t do justice to the opulence of this library which was commissioned by King João V in 1717 (hence the name ‘joanine’). During this time Portugal had become a very wealthy country, particularly from gold which had recently been discovered in the Portuguese colony of Brazil and this is celebrated in the library, particularly at the far end where a portrait of King João V (attributed to Giorgio Domêncio Duprà) hangs surrounded by excessive gold ornamentation and topped by a gold crown. The library is divided up into three rooms and in each room are two-tiered oak shelves decorated with gold-leaf images in the Chinese style which was popular at the time, by Manuel de Silva, and tables made of exotic wood. The ceiling is decorated with detailed trompe l’oeil paintings by António Simões Ribeiro and Vicente Nunes, depicting the library, the university and the faculties of law, medicine and theology. It is claimed that there are 60,000 books in the library dating from the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; among the rarer books in the collection is a first edition of Os Lusíadas by Luís Vaz de Camões (1572) and one of the few surviving Hebrew Bibles from the fifteenth century. The books are aesthetically arranged on the shelves making it look more like a museum than a library and I suspect that it has been a long time since anyone has actually read a book from here. The books are protected by keeping the library at a constant temperature and level of humidity and by a colony of bats which live in the library and eat the insects that would normally destroy the pages.

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Postcard of Joanine Library, Paço das Escolas, University of Coimbra

From the Piso Nobre (Noble Floor), as this part of the library is called, we were ushered downstairs to a comparatively stark area with more displays of books on shelves and in glass cabinets and then down a spiral staircase to the basement where we found ourselves in a former medieval prison made up of two cells, which from 1773 to 1832 was used as the prisão acadêmica (academic prison), a place where students were imprisoned for breaking the university rules.

It was nice to get back into the bright light of the courtyard, which we crossed to climb the stairs of the Via Latina to enter the main part of the former palace. The highlight in this part of the building is the Sala dos Capelos (Hall of Capes), also known as Sala Grande dos Actos (Great Hall), which was once the throne room dating from 1655. This room still has a regal look to it, from the red and gold decor and the dark wooden furniture to the portraits of the kings of Portugal, from King Afonso I to King João IV, on the walls and the ceiling covered with over 100 wooden panels painted in a Baroque style in gold and silver by Jacinto Pereira da Costa. The hall is now used for official university ceremonies, including being the place PhD viva voce exams are held.

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Great Hall (Sala dos Capelos), Paço das Escolas, University of Coimbra

The other rooms open to the public retain a palatial look, including the Sala do Exame Privado (Private Examination Room) with a colourful ceiling by José Ferreira Araújo (1701) and walls lined with azulejos and portraits of past university rectors; the Sala das Armas (Hall of Arms) which houses antique arrows displayed on the azulejo-decorated walls and displays the royal coat-of-arms on the ceiling; and the Sala Amarela (Yellow Room) and Sala Azul (Blue Room) which are named after the colour of the silk wallpaper on the walls, each representing a faculty (yellow for medicine and blue for science and technology), and both of which have more portraits of former rectors on the walls.

The university, including the Paço das Escolas, the sixteenth-century buildings on the Rua da Sofia in the lower part of the city (many of them no longer owned by the university and not open to the public, including Colégio de São Tomás de Aquino (Saint Thomas Aquinas College) and Colégio de São Pedro dos Religiosos Terceiros (Saint Peter of the Third Order College)), the eighteenth-century science buildings (including Colégio de Jesus (Jesus College), which has displays centred on the 18th– and 19th-century study of physics and natural history) and the Botanic Garden (created in 1772 under the auspices of the Marquês de Pombal), is now a UNESCO World Heritage site and is as revered in Portugal as Oxford and Cambridge Universities are in the UK.

 

Alumni include the writers Luís Vaz de Camões, Almeida Garrett, Eça de Queiroz and Vergílio Ferreira; the political singer-songwriter José (Zeca) Afonso; the eighteenth-century prime minister and reformer the Marquês de Pombal; and the twentieth-century dictator António de Oliveira Salazar. Nowadays the university departments are spread around the city, many of them in ugly concrete blocks built in the mid-twentieth-century during Salazar’s attempt to modernize the university. Despite (or because of) this, for many people the heart of the university is still in the Paço das Escolas.

Practicalities

Velha Universidade, Paço das Escolas, Coimbra

Ticket office is in Edifício da Biblioteca Geral, Largo da Porta Férrea. A ticket (€12) gives a timed entrance to the Joanine Library, Saint Michael’s Chapel and the Great Hall and a few other rooms of the former palace. It also includes entrance into the Colégio de Jesus, which is in a completely different building and wasn’t part of the tour when we visited in 2016. To climb the tower requires a separate ticket (€2).

Opening hours: March to October 9am-7.30pm; November to February 9.30am-1pm and 2pm-5.30pm (closed 1 January, 24 and 25 December, and closes at 2pm 31 December)

Jardim Botânico da Universidade de Coimbra (University of Coimbra Botanic Garden), Calçada Martim de Freitas, Coimbra

Entrance is free. Opening hours: April to September 9am-8pm; October to March 9am-5.30pm

 

Coimbra, Enduring love and political intrigue: the story of Pedro and Inês, History

Enduring love and political intrigue: the story of Pedro and Inês

 

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Sculpture of Pedro and Inês, Santa Clara-a-Velha convent museum, Coimbra

The most famous love story in Portuguese history takes us to Coimbra and Alcobaça to learn more about the intense passion between Prince Pedro, the heir to the Portuguese throne, and his mistress, Inês de Castro, and Pedro’s enduring love for her after her death. The story is often described as the Portuguese Romeo and Juliet, but there are also elements of obsessive love and political intrigue reminiscent of Henry VIII’s relationship with Anne Boleyn. The story begins in 1340 when Pedro married Constança Manuel of Villena and she brought her cousin, Inês de Castro, to Portugal with her as her lady-in-waiting. Inês was illegitimately connected to the Castilian royal family and had spent her childhood in Albuquerque Castle in Estremadura in Spain, during which time Afonso Sanches, the illegitimate half-brother of King Afonso IV of Portugal (Pedro’s father), was taking refuge in the castle to escape his brother’s death threats. This connection with Afonso Sanches became a problem when Pedro fell madly in love with Inês and they began a passionate affair. When Pedro’s father found out about their relationship he expelled Inês from Portugal. She returned to Albuquerque Castle where she stayed until Constança’s death in 1345, when she came back to Portugal and resumed her affair with Pedro. Pedro declared that she was his one true love, but King Afonso IV refused to let them marry. The King was distrustful of this relationship partly due to Inês connection to Castile and the possibility that Portugal would become involved in the civil war that was taking place there in which the insurrection against the King of Spain was being led by the son of King Afonso’s arch enemy, the aforementioned Afonso Sanches, further complicated by Pedro declaring himself pretender to the Castile throne in 1354; and partly because if Pedro and Inês were to marry their children would have a legitimate right to the throne which the King wanted to avoid. Despite this opposition, Pedro lived with Inês in Coimbra and they had three children together. However, on a January day in 1355 Inês was arrested and taken to Santa Clara-a-Velha convent where she was beheaded by three assassins acting under the King’s orders.

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Santa Clara-a-Velha convent, Coimbra

After her murder Pedro’s immediate reaction was to declare a rebellion against his father, which he ultimately did not go through with and they were reconciled by the time of the King’s death in 1357. However, the story does not end there, for once Pedro was crowned King Pedro I he confessed that he and Inês had got married in secret, allegedly at the Igreja de São Vicente in Bragança. But the marriage could not be proven and the Pope refused to recognize it, thus preventing their children from having a legitimate right to the throne.

Not surprisingly various legends have developed around the story of Pedro and Inês over the centuries and while they may not be true they have given it a mythic quality. One legend is that King Pedro I had Inês’ decomposed corpse exhumed and then crowned her Queen of Portugal, insisting that everyone in his court kiss her hand. Another legend is that when Pedro had her assassins arrested he then tore out their hearts and ate them. The myth has been perpetuated through the centuries in art, literature, music and film. There is an Inês de Castro Foundation dedicated to historical research, art and cultural events related to her and Alcobaça has a Pedro and Inês route around the city with ceramics made by local factories depicting episodes from the Luís Vaz de Camões version of the story from Os Lusíadas (The Lusiads, 1572).

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Sculpture of ‘Thrones of Pedro and Inês’ by Thierry Ferreira and Renato Silva, Jardim do Amor, Alcobaça

Canto III, verses 118-136 of Os Lusíadas tells the story of Pedro and Inês, with some artistic licence on the part of Camões, and verse 135, which describes the legend of the Fonte das Lágrimas (Spring of Tears) in the Quinta das Lágrimas in Coimbra, is carved on a plaque at the place where Inês is reputedly said to have been murdered and where, after her death, a spring created by her tears as she was dying allegedly rose.

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Verse from Os Lusíadas, Fonte das Lágrimas, Quinta das Lágrimas, Coimbra

‘As filhas do Mondego a morte escura
Longo tempo chorando memoraram,
As lágrimas choradas transformaram.
O nome lhe puseram, que inda dura,
Dos amores de Inês, que ali passaram.
Vede que fresco fonte rega as flores,
Que lágrimas são a água e o nome Amores.’

(‘The nymphs of Mondego long mourned the memory of that dark death, And, in eternal memory, the tears were transformed into a clear spring. The name they gave it, that still endures, came from the love of Inês who spent time there. See the cool spring watering the flowers, whose tears are the water and whose name is Love.’)

A further legend says that her blood still remains on the stones of the channel that is fed by the spring.

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Fonte das Lágrimas, Quinta das Lágrimas, Coimbra

Nearby is the fourteenth-century Fonte dos Amores (Spring of Love), where Pedro and Inês carried out their love affair. This is a peaceful place in the grounds of the Quinta das Lágrimas, which is entered through a nineteenth-century gothic arch.

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Gothic arch, Fonte dos Amores, Quinta das Lágrimas, Coimbra
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Fonte dos Amores, Quinta das Lágrimas, Coimbra

Before walking through the arch there is a wooded area with ribbons hanging from the trees. It has become a tradition to write the name of a loved one on the ribbon and attach it to a tree.

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Ribbons of love, Quinta das Lágrimas, Coimbra

Pedro’s love for Inês did not fade and after ascending the throne in 1357 Pedro ordered tombs for him and Inês to be built at the Santa Maria de Alcobaça Monastery.

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Santa Maria de Alcobaça Monastery, Alcobaça

Inês’ body was moved from Coimbra to her tomb in Alcobaça and after his death in 1367 Pedro was interred in his tomb. The tombs are in the transepts of the church and are made of white marble in an elaborate gothic style. They are unusually placed facing each other rather than side-by-side and both are carved with the phrase ‘Até ao Fim do Mundo’ (‘Until the End of the World’), which is believed to refer to Judgement Day when the first sight they will have will be of each other. Recumbent statues of Pedro and Inês lie on top of their respective tombs and both are supported by angels. Pedro has a dog at his feet to represent fidelity and on the side of his tomb is the Portuguese coat of arms and scenes from the life of his patron saint, Saint Bartholomew. On the end is a wheel of life showing scenes from Pedro’s life and depicting his love for Inês. The tomb stands on lions.

The scenes on Inês’ tomb are more unsettling, with episodes analogous to her violent death, including the crucifixion of Christ and the Last Judgement, where the innocents are shown going to Heaven, the guilty going to Hell and Pedro and Inês reunited in Paradise. Her tomb is supported by figures that are half-men and half-beast, representing the men who murdered her.

Despite damage over the centuries, particularly in the early-nineteenth century when French troops pillaged the church, the tombs are beautiful and both Pedro and Inês look as if they are peacefully sleeping and waiting until the end of the world when they will be together again.