COIMBRA - THE PRIDE OF PORTUGAL
When I think of robes and academia, the staff at Hogwarts comes to mind. Snapes billowing down ancient corridors, bats passing through mournful apparitions, and eclectic treasures appearing at every corner. Then I discovered Portugal's Coimbra University.
One of the world's oldest universities (est. 1290) may not offer moving staircases or turreted spires, but Coimbra is said to have inspired some of JK Rowling's imaginings. The medieval city is Portugal's original capital and its university, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has traditions that relegate those of Oxford, Cambridge and other Ivy Leaguers to the sidelines. Located midway between Lisbon and Porto, Viking Cruises has made it one of the most intriguing bus transfers for those on their way to a Douro River Valley cruise.
Robes & Ribbons
The robe's state of disrepair is especially noteworthy -- its thick fabric shredded as if by some wild animal attack. These tears though, are time-honoured imperatives. Each must be made with hands or teeth no cheating allowed and tell the story of support and love. Friends rip those on the left; family members chew up the right, and those at the back show the wearer is in relationship. The longer the tear, the more involved the relationship and should that love end, the rip is sewn up. Not with any discretion mind you, but with the brightly coloured ribbon from, and sewn by, the one who was dumped! Since some cloaks bespoke popularity contests, it's with some relief that students celebrate their graduation with a burning fiesta of ribbons and robes that attest to too many broken hearts.
Books & Bats
The Pride of Fado
Aficionados consider Coimbra the cradle of Fado, in large part because Portugal's most tragic love story originates here.
King Afonso VI so disapproved of his son's romance with Ines that he had her murdered, supposedly next to the Fountain of Tears on what is now the Quinta das Lagrimas. When Pedro succeeded his father to the throne, he took revenge by having the killers' hearts torn out. Revealing he had married Ines in secret, Pedro then had her corpse exhumed and crowned, forcing the court to acknowledge her as queen by kneeling before her on the throne and kissing her decomposed hand. Their tombs in Alcobaca Abbey are placed foot to foot so that when they arose on the Day of Judgement, the two lovers would immediately see each other. Both tombs carry the inscription "Atι ao fim do mundo", "until the end of the world."
Their story of love, loss and heartfelt anguish is Fado personified. And in Coimbra, where it is only sung by men, Fado is relished on street corners and public squares. The university even has its own Fado fraternity and like elsewhere in the country, the traditional costume, unchanged since the 19th century, consists of a black suit with that ubiquitous black cape.
1.Coimbra University Square with view: Photo: Chris McBeath
2.Coimbra University Clock Tower; Photo: Chris McBeath
3.Coimbra University robed student; Photo Chris McBeath
4.The Biblioteca Joanin, Coimbra University Photo: Coimbra University
4a. The Biblioteca Joanin, Coimbra University: Photo Coimbra University
5.Tiny Bat. Photo: Creative Commons
6.Fado Portuguese guitarist; Photo: Patricia BannermanTravel Writers' Tales is an independent travel article syndicate that offers professionally written travel articles to newspaper editors and publishers. To check out more, visit www.TravelWritersTales.com
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