Originally our plan was to stay in Coimbra one night and then head up to Oporto for one night before going to Guimaraes. There was supposed to be a concert in Oporto on Sunday night that Zach wanted to see, but when he went online to buy tickets a few weeks ago we discovered the show had been cancelled. So when we arrived in Coimbra yesterday and found we really enjoyed it, we decided to extend our stay an extra night. So here we are in Coimbra for our final evening.
Since we had originally planned on leaving this morning, we took a leisurely breakfast (which is provided by our guest house) and then sat around a bit this morning. We had a couple things we wanted to see today – the botanical gardens (Jardim Botanico) and the Monastery of Santa Clara-a-Velha. So we took off first to peruse the gardens which were near the university.
The botanical gardens were surprisingly refreshing. Zach said it’s the best botanical garden he’s ever visited. It was very peaceful. Some trees had changed color and were in gorgeous yellows and oranges, while others were a vibrant green.
We even stumbled upon a zip line obstacle course in a separate part of the gardens called Sky Garden. It wasn’t open, but it looked like it was straight out of a Donkey Kong level. There were tires to hop your way across, buckets to stand on while you pulled yourself to the other side, tree platforms that were decorated as nests – it was awesome!
We made our way out of the botanical gardens and down, down, down to the river Mondego to cross the pedestrian bridge over to see the Santa Clara Monastery.
The monastery has an interesting story. It was built in the 1280s on the left bank of the Mondego River. However, as soon as the 1330s, the monastery was annually flooded by the river and therefore, began sinking into the ground. Over the centuries the river continued to flood the monastery so the sisters elevated the floors to reduce the flood damage. They even abandoned entering the church through the door! They moved their church services to the second level (that was built due to the floods) and entered through a window. Eventually the flooding became so great and made life in the monastery so difficult that the king ordered the nuns to abandon the monastery in 1647. A new monastery was built on the hill above and it was christened Monastery of Santa Clara-a-Nova (the new). The last nuns left the old monastery in 1677.
As time passed the old monastery fell into ruin and was submerged with mud and water from the Mondego. In the early part of the 20th century there was some renovation work on the chapel, but it wasn’t until the end of the 1990s that work began on the excavation of the ruins. The museum that is now there was completed only 3 years ago. You can see from the photos how low the ruins and church are compared to the street level now. We were able to walk all around inside the chapel. There are still some fragments of the azulejos in parts of the interior and exterior. They look almost as if they have melted into the stone itself.
Upon leaving the monastery (where we were mistaken for Spaniards!) we walked back across the river and through town. We stopped for an early (by Portugal’s standards!) dinner at Jardim da Manga, a restaurant our hostess recommended. The restaurant sits by an ancient fountain which is all that is left of an earlier monastery that was built in the 1500s. Zach tried his first bacalhau and I had an thin pork chop like thing the Portuguese like to call a bifsteak. It was really great and very filling – especially since every Portuguese dish is served with double starches, potatoes and rice.
After dinner we headed back to our room where we napped and relaxed and researched our next stop, Guimaraes. We’ll do a bit of shopping in the morning and then catch a train farther north.