You’ll think I’m a little batty with this random list of fun bits of trivia about the University of Coimbra. The visit was brief and was a stop during the Viking River Cruises’ Portugal’s River of Gold itinerary, a welcomed break on the drive between Lisbon and Porto.
1. J.K. Rowling Visited the University of Coimbra
As soon as I saw students greeting the tour busses I immediately thought of Harry Potter. Why? They were wearing black capes! According to my Viking River Cruises guide and verified during a Google search (it was on the Internet so it has to be true, right?), J.K. Rowling spent time in Coimbra and the University of Coimbra and found inspiration while writing about magical Harry and his adventures. The Joanina Library (or Biblioteca Joanina in Portuguese) also served as a source of inspiration and as soon as I stepped in, I gasped at how classically beautiful it is. I’ll talk more about the library a little later.
2. No Matter the Temperature, Students Wear Black Capes
Okay, they don’t wear them all the time but for special occasions, such as when a tour bus pulls in, students will don their black suits and capes. As explained, the left side of the cape has cuts made by family members and cuts to the right made by friends. Up the middle is a cut representative of a significant other. The longer the cut, the more serious the relationship. What happens the couple breaks up? It’s sewn with a color thread associated with the student’s college colors, such as yellow for students attending Coimbra’s School of Medicine. Students may also choose to sew patches received during their time at the university onto their capes. As my Viking River Cruises guide said, think of it as the Medieval Facebook.
3. Stepping on the Seal May Make You Smarter
Forget about staying at a Holiday Inn Express (although they’re comfortable) when in Portugal, step on the University of Coimbra seal to gain wisdom and become smarter, at least that’s what I was told. Did I do it? Oh, heck yeah! I can use all the smarts I can get.
4. It’s a Site of Cultural Significance
Established in the 13th century, the University of Coimbra is Portugal’s oldest continuously run university. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2013, the university sits atop a hill overlooking Coimbra and evolved over seven centuries. Its architecture as well as cultural and ceremonial traditions were considerations in the UNESCO World Heritage designation.
5. Bats Protect the Library
Built in the 18th century, the Joanina Library was simply stunning with its rich, baroque decor with mural ceilings that look three dimensional. It houses more than 56,000 books dating back to the 16th century. Students once researched and studied in this amazing building but today, it’s pretty much a museum. Tall bookcases lined the walls and I had to wonder, how do you grab a book on the top case? The guide said to look closely and see pockets housing wood ladders that can be easily pulled out or tucked away.
As for library residents, a colony of bats were brought into the Joanina Library to eat insects in order to preserve the the building’s interior and contents. Administration decided bats were better than chemicals so 22 bats were brought in to live behind the scenes. Each evening, staff cover the books and furniture to shield them from the bat droppings. [Note: during my visit, there were 21 bats because one had recently passed away.]
Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos of the interior since it’s now forbidden but I’ll always remember how grand it looked.
These are so random, right? More memories of Portugal will be posted soon.
In the mean time, I’m STILL uploading photos to my #VikingCruises Flickr album and hope to respond to emails from my new cruise friends soon!