Beira felt very different from Algarve and Alentejo. The rest of our bicycle tour, sort of paralleling the Atlantic Ocean from Coimbra to Lisbon, was once again very different from anything we had already seen in Portugal. Traffic was heavier, the hills were steeper, and the scenery wasn’t so beautiful as it’s generally a more built-up and populated part of the country. The monuments, however, wow! — it’s one UNESCO World Heritage Site after another.
We arrived in Coimbra from Penacova via a short, easy, scenic ride along the Mondego River, blissfully not realizing what a challenge the riding would be the two weeks to follow. It’s the historic University of Coimbra buildings that comprise the UNESCO site here. We’ve now visited six World Heritage sites in Portugal (with more still planned…), and the University of Coimbra is the only one where I could say “disappointing”. The star attraction is the Joanina Library, but it’s pretty small, and you only get 10 minutes. I had high expectations remembering the phenomenal library at El Escorial. The Coimbra University sites’ 12.50-Euro-entrance fee, more than double the entrance to most of the monuments, is steep. The roads in Coimbra are steep too, and the university sits on top of a hill.
Here is the main square at the university, Patio das Escolas:
and the (historic) entrance to the library (no photos allowed inside):
Coimbra’s steep hills make for some nice cityscapes.
The highlight of our time in Coimbra was walking around the old part of the city. There are a number of wonderful squares. Here are Largo de Portagem and Praça 8 de Maio.
If you missed the main attraction, you can often find an azulejo to substitute.
Coimbra is named after Conímbriga, the most intact Roman city in Portugal. Like visiting Mérida I knew, coming from Turkey, I ought to have low expectations for this Roman site. I guess I can say we were very lucky to visit Conímbriga on Easter Sunday. The site was closed so I stepped over the chain and saw the ruins in about 10 minutes. Normally they want 4.50 Euro/person for this??!!
At this point we were following the pilgrimage route south to Fátima which, in the other direction, is the pilgrimage route north to Santiago de Compostela. We stayed at a fun, busy hostel in Tomar where, I believe, every guest (except us) was walking to Santiago.
The blue sign on the left says “Fátima”:
We followed the Aqueduct of Pegões for a little as we rode into Tomar.
The aqueduct supplied water to Tomar’s star attraction, The Convent of Christ, another World Heritage Site. When the Portuguese took this land from the Moors, the Knights of Templar established Tomar on the site of the Moorish fortress. For the first half of our visit the dreary rainy weather made photography a little difficult, but we enjoyed one incredible cloister after another.
Some people would say this Manueline window is the highlight:
or in azulejo form if you prefer:
while others (including me) are more impressed by the Round Church. The church is small and high which like the weather I’ll use as an excuse for poor photos,
but check out the artwork on either side of the entrance. One’s real, and one’s a painting!
Leaving Tomar (on another rainy day) we stopped by the Igreja de Santa Maria dos Olivais where the Portuguese “founder” of Tomar is buried.
From Tomar it was a short distance to finish our pilgrimage to Fátima. About 100 years ago some children saw visions here, and well, the Catholics investigated, some popes visited, and now it’s the most important Christian pilgrimage site in Portugal (to make a long story short, I’m sure). Ferda was moved by good energy. I felt blessed that the rain had stopped (briefly as it turned out).
The next day, however, our UNESCO-pilgrimage continued, this time to Batalha, a monastery built to celebrate Portugal’s victory over Spain in the nearby (in space) battle of Aljubarrota in 1385.
Seriously? It’s one incredible monument after another in this part of Portugal.
So it looks great from the outside, “but is it really worth going in?” you’re wondering. Well, it’s always hard taking photos inside,
then we found this pleasant cloister,
but I was absolutely blown away by the main cloister (the star attraction!) with it’s detailed Manueline lattice work in the arches.
By this time the rain had stopped, the steep roads continued, we found some nice camping, and the UNESCO indulgence continued to Lisbon, but that’s for the next post…