Coimbra is one of the most important urban centers of Portugal after the much larger Lisbon Metropolitan Area and Porto Metropolitan Area. Coimbra plays a role as the chief urban centre of the central part of the country. The city contains important archeological remains of structures dating from the time when it was the Roman town of Aeminium, such as its well-preserved aqueduct and cryptoporticus, as well as from the period when it served as the capital of Portugal (from 1139 to about 1260). In the Late Middle-Ages, declining as the political centre of the Kingdom of Portugal, Coimbra began to evolve into a major cultural centre with the foundation of the University of Coimbra in 1290. The university, one of the oldest in Europe, attracts visitors from around the world due to its monumental buildings and history, making the city an important touristic destination.
Coimbra municipality has a population of 148,443 inhabitants in a 319.4 km² land area, and 55,402 families (an increase in the number of families of 17.1% was experienced between 1991 and 2001). The city proper has a population of 101,069 distributed across the core urban parishes of the municipality. The municipality of Coimbra has a "present population" (população presente) of 157,510 inhabitants, and a "usuary population" (população utente) of 200,000. On average, over 43,000 people flow to Coimbra every day to study and work. About 430,000 inhabitants live in its Greater Metropolitan Area, the Grande Área Metropolitana de Coimbra, made of 16 municipalities comprising a 3372 km² territory. Between 1864 and 2001, Coimbra municipality population tripled (Portugal's population doubled during the same period). Between 1991 and 2001 its population increased 6.75% (Portugal's population increased 4.08% in the same period). But between 2001 and 2007 its population decreased, from 148,443 to 137,212 (INE 2007).
After being reconquered by the Christians, Coimbra became the capital of a new County (County of Coimbra), governed by the Mozarab Sesnando (Sisnando Davides), later incorporated into the County of Portugal. In the mid-12th century, the first Portuguese King, Afonso Henriques, turned Coimbra into the capital of the new Kingdom, a condition the city would keep until the year 1255. Many important monuments of the city date from this early period, like the Old Cathedral, the Church of St. James (Igreja de Santiago) and the Santa Cruz Monastery, which was the most important Portuguese monastic institution at the time.
As early as the Middle Ages, Coimbra was divided into an upper city (Cidade Alta or Almedina), where the aristocracy and the clergy lived, and the low city (Cidade Baixa) by the river, where most commercial activities took place. The city was encircled by a fortified wall, of which some remnants are still visible like the Almedina Gate (Porta da Almedina). The most important work in Gothic style in the city is the Monastery of Santa Clara-a-Velha, founded on the left side of the river Mondego by Queen Elizabeth in the first half of the 14th century. The Monastery was located too close to the river, and frequent floods forced the nuns to abandon it in the 17th century, when the Monastery of Santa Clara-a-Nova was built uphill. The Queen's magnificent gothic tomb was also transferred to the new convent. The ruins of the old convent were unearthed in the 2000s, and can be seen today in the left bank of the river.
In the 15th and 16th centuries, during the Age of Discovery, Coimbra was again one of the main artistic centres of Portugal thanks to both local and royal patronage. Coimbra bishops, religious orders and King Manuel I supported artists like Diogo Pires (father and son), Marcos Pires, João de Castilho, Diogo de Castilho and the Frenchmen, João de Ruão and Nicholas of Chanterene, among others, who left important manueline and renaissance works in the town. Dating from this period are the remodelling (in manueline style) of the Santa Cruz Monastery, including the tombs of Kings Afonso Henriques and Sancho I, the renaissance Manga Fountain, the altarpieces and triumphal portal of the Old Cathedral, among other works.
The University of Coimbra, founded as Studium Generale in Lisbon in 1290 by King Dinis I and relocated several times to Coimbra, was definitively transferred to the premises of Coimbra Royal Palace in 1537 by King John III. Since then, the city life has revolved around the state-run university, and for many decades, several colleges (colégios) created to provide an alternative to the official form of teaching and established by the religious orders in the city, which were later gradually discontinued through the times with the secularization of teaching in Portugal. Built in the 18th century, the Joanina Library (Biblioteca Joanina), a Baroque library, is other notable landmark of the ancient university. The Baroque University Tower (Torre da Universidade), from the school of the German architect Ludovice and built between 1728 and 1733, is the city's «ex-libris».
In 1772, the prime-minister of king José I, the Marquis of Pombal, undertook a deep reform of the University, where the study of the sciences assumed vast importance. The collections of scientific instruments and material acquired since then are nowadays gathered in the Science Museum of the University of Coimbra, and constitute one of the most important historical science collections in Europe.
The first half of the 19th century was a difficult period for Coimbra, invaded by French troops under the command of Andoche Junot and André Masséna. The city recovered in the second half of the century with infrastructure improvements like the telegraph, gas light, the railway system and a railway bridge over the Mondego river.
Apart from the monuments already mentioned, it is also worth a visit to the New Cathedral of Coimbra (17th century) and the Machado de Castro Museum, the second most important one in Portugal, housed in the former Palace of the Bishops. The city also houses the University of Coimbra General Library, Portuguese second biggest library, after the National Library in Lisbon, and the Botanical Garden of the University of Coimbra from the 18th century.
Coimbra is also known for the reduced child-scale buildings in the Portugal dos Pequenitos park, an educational theme park built during the Estado Novo. Its buildings are scale copies of Portuguese architectural landmarks and were completed in the 1950s.
Coimbra has been called A cidade dos estudantes (The city of the students) or Lusa-Atenas (Lusitan-Athens), mainly because it is the site of the oldest and one of the largest universities in Portugal - the University of Coimbra, a public university whose origins can be traced back to the 13th century. Nowadays, it has students from 70 different nationalities; almost 10% of its students are foreigners, making it Portugal's most international university.
Besides that, there are also some other schools and institutes of higher education in the city: the Instituto Politécnico de Coimbra, a public polytechnic institute; the Escola Superior de Enfermagem de Coimbra, a public nursing school; and some private higher education institutions such as the Instituto Superior Miguel Torga; the Instituto Superior Bissaya Barreto; the Escola Universitária Vasco da Gama and finally, the Escola Universitária das Artes de Coimbra, an art school.
A large number of higher education students from entire Portugal chose Coimbra's higher learning institutions to study, due to the wide availability of degrees offered in different fields, the student-friendly environment of the city, and the prestige of many of its learning institutions allied to the ancient tradition of Coimbra as the historical capital of higher studies in Portugal.
The city has also a large number of public and private basic and secondary schools, among these some of the best-ranked in the country, like Escola Secundária Infanta D. Maria (public), Escola Secundária José Falcão (public) and Colégio Rainha Santa Isabel (private), as well as several kindergartens and nurseries.
The wealth of the city rests mostly on its University of Coimbra with about 23,000 students - the city has a total of 35,000 higher education students considering the other higher education institutions based there - but also in shopping, technology and health sciences industry, administrative offices, financial services, law firms and specialized medical care. The city has many private clinics, medical offices and two large independent state hospital centres: the H.U.C. - Hospitais da Universidade de Coimbra, which is a university hospital, and the C.H.C. - Centro Hospitalar de Coimbra, which is a district hospital. Coimbra has also the regional branch of the national cancer hospital - the I.P.O. - Instituto Português de Oncologia, as well as a military hospital. The Instituto Nacional de Medicina Legal, the state-run forensic science institute of Portugal, is headquartered in Coimbra.
Notable companies in the city area include Critical Software which has its global headquarters in the city, Cimpor's cement factory in Souselas (CIMPOR Souselas), the pan-European service facility of Olympus Corporation, the pharmaceuticals companies Bluepharma and BASI, the iron foundry Fucoli-Somepal, and several ceramics, food processing, textiles and wine industries. Handicraft industry is well represented by traditional tapestry and pottery manufacture, and the surroundings of the city have besides forestry, dynamic horticulture production, vineyards and livestock raising. The Instituto Pedro Nunes (Pedro Nunes Institute), a business incubator, dynamically hosts several start-ups which are usually dedicated to technology-related businesses and became independent spin-off companies headquartered across the whole region. The Coimbra Innovation Park is a science and technology park built in 2008, with the objective of promoting innovation and companies that focus on the relationship with R&D facilities to develop their business.
Coimbra has a fresh produce open-air market on every 7th and 23rd days of the month at Feira dos 7 e dos 23, and a large fresh produce market in downtown at Mercado D. Pedro V. The Baixa (downtown) of Coimbra has many coffeehouses and bakeries, and features several specialty shops selling all kind of products in typical old-fashioned architectural surroundings. Large commercial facilities with car park, include a medium-sized shopping center (CoimbraShopping); two larger shopping centers with hypermarket, restaurants, movie theaters and several shops with a selection of some of Portugal's and the world's most famous and stylish international brands (Centro Comercial Dolce Vita and Forum Coimbra); and two retail parks found on the fringes of the city, offering an alternative to the busy city centre (Retail Park Mondego in Taveiro, and Coimbra Retail Park in Eiras).
Orfeon Académico de Coimbra, the oldest and most famous academic choir in Portugal, an autonomous organization of the students' union Associação Académica de Coimbra, established in 1880 by a law student, and the fado section of Associação Académica de Coimbra itself, are important organizations in Coimbra fado promotion and preservation.
According to tradition, to applaud fado in Lisbon one would clap his hands, while in Coimbra cough as if clearing the throat is the typical way.
Coimbra is also known for its university students' festivals. Two are held every year. The first one, Latada or Festa das Latas (The Tin Can Parade), a homecoming parade, occurs in the beginning of scholar year, and is a welcome to the new university students (Caloiros). The Festa das Latas goes back to the 19th century when the Coimbra students felt the need to express their joy at finishing the school year in as loud a way as possible, using everything at their disposal that would make noise, namely tin cans. The highlight of this festival, which now takes place at the beginning of the academic year (November) is the special parade known as the Latada. After marching through the streets of the city the new students are baptized in the Mondego River thus entering into the Coimbra academic fraternity. The 2nd year's students are awarded their Grelos (a small ribbon). The Grelo is a small, woollen ribbon with the color(s) of the student's faculty that is attached to a student's briefcase. Previous to this, at the morning the students must have visited the Dom Pedro V market where they must get a turnip to sustain the Caloiros during the day's festivities. Besides the tin cans they have tied to their legs, the new students wear all kinds of costumes made up according to the creativity and imagination of their godmothers or godfathers who are older students. They also carry placards with ironic criticisms alluding to certain teachers, the educational system, national events and leaders.
The second one, Queima das Fitas (The Burning of the Ribbons), more important than the first, takes place at the end of the second semester (usually in the beginning of May) and it is one of the biggest student parties in all Europe. It lasts for 8 days, each for each University of Coimbra's Faculty: Letras (Letters), Direito (Law), Medicina (Medicine), Ciências e Tecnologia (Sciences and Technology), Farmácia (Pharmacy), Economia (Economics), Psicologia e Ciências da Educação (Psychology and Education Sciences) and Ciências do Desporto e Educação Física (Sports Sciences and Physical Education).
Although being University of Coimbra's festivals, other higher education students of Coimbra such as the polytechnic's students or private institution's students, are invited every year by the University of Coimbra students who manage and organise this events, to participate in the Tin Can Parade and also in the Burning of the Ribbons.
Coimbra has many attractive and pleasant green spaces such as parks, playgrounds, gardens and forests. The most famous park in the city is probably the Botanical Garden of the University of Coimbra, the fifth oldest in the world.
The city's green areas also include the Mata Nacional do Choupal, the Mata Nacional de Vale de Canas, Jardim da Sereia (also known as Jardim de Santa Cruz), Penedo da Saudade, Parque Manuel Braga, Parque Verde do Mondego and Choupalinho. Quinta das Lágrimas, a 19th century palace and estate, which was transformed into a hotel and golf resort, contains also a large park. Also noteworthy is the Paul de Arzila, a natural reserve occupying an area in Coimbra municipality (in Arzila), and in the neighbouring municipalities of Condeixa-a-Nova and Montemor-o-Velho.
Not far away from the urban center, close to the city itself, and fully set in the municipality of Coimbra, there are plenty of mountain and river landscapes. These include the river beach of Palheiros do Zorro in the parish of Torres do Mondego.
Coimbra also has one of the largest multisports clubs in Portugal: the University of Coimbra's students' union Associação Académica de Coimbra, includes sections dedicated to a wide array of sports such as rugby, volleyball, handball, rink hockey, basketball, baseball, tennis, swimming, rowing, among many others.
The Estádio Cidade de Coimbra (30,000 seats), which was a site of 2004 European Football Championship and includes olympic swimming pools (Piscinas Municipais), as well as a multiuse sports facility (Pavilhão Multiusos de Coimbra), located both near the stadium; the Estádio Municipal Sérgio Conceição; and the Estádio Universitário de Coimbra, an extensive sports complex of the university on Mondego's left bank, are the main athletics and sports venues in Coimbra. The Pavilhão Jorge Anjinho sports arena (headquarters of Associação Académica de Coimbra - O.A.F.), Pavilhão dos Olivais, and Pavilhão do C.F. União de Coimbra, are other places where some of the most important indoor sports clashes involving teams of Coimbra are played.
Major sports teams based in Coimbra include:
|Associação Académica de Coimbra - O.A.F.||Football||Portuguese Liga||Estádio Cidade de Coimbra|
|Associação Académica de Coimbra - Secção de Basquetebol||Basketball||Proliga||Pavilhão Multiusos de Coimbra|
|Associação Académica de Coimbra - Secção de Rugby||Rugby||Campeonato Nacional de Rugby||Estádio Universitário de Coimbra|
|Associação Académica de Coimbra - Secção de Voleibol||Volleyball||Portuguese Volleyball League A1||Estádio Universitário de Coimbra|
|C.F. União de Coimbra||Football||Portuguese Third Division||Estádio Sérgio Conceição|
The two banks of Mondego river at Coimbra, are linked by three main bridges: the Ponte do Açude; the Ponte de Santa Clara (Santa Clara bridge), which is the oldest, and the Ponte Rainha Santa also known as Ponte Europa, which is the newest one, finished in 2004.
The city is internally connected by an extensive bus network, the SMTUC (Serviços Municipalizados de Transportes Urbanos de Coimbra, Coimbra Municipality Urban Transport Services) and trolleybuses (the only city in Portugal having them). In the past, the city also had a tram network (some are now parked inside a transportation museum). Taxicabs are also available, and are recognizable as cream or black and green (black car with green rooftop) taxis. The city is a hub for interregional bus services for all the country and abroad.
A light-rail metro system, Metro Mondego, is currently being built, with opening expected for early 2009.
Coimbra has several rail stations. The principal station Coimbra-B is on the main line between Porto and Lisbon. From this, a small spur runs to Coimbra-A, the main station in the city centre. A small regional rail line (Linha da Lousã) also runs from Coimbra Parque at the south edge of the city centre. From Coimbra-Parque is possible to travel to Miranda do Corvo, Lousã and Serpins, among others. Also it is possible to travel by train bweteen Coimbra and Figueira da Foz (Ramal de Alfarelos) and Coimbra and Guarda and Vilar Formoso (Linha da Beira Alta[international]).
A regional airfield is located in Cernache (Aeródromo Municipal Bissaya Barreto) (CBP)[PCO], 7.5 km SW of the city downtown. With a 920 metre runway and Flight Information Service until the sunset, this regional airport has all the fundamental facilities for private flights.
Note: Some parishes make part of the city of Coimbra, while others are urban, rural, or both urban and rural.