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.