© Rita Draper Frazão

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quinta-feira, 30 de março de 2017

The (En)chants in Coimbra


In the Northern Hemisphere, warmer weather is arriving, and along with it, is spring break too!
Here's what I took as an inspiration last time I was in Coimbra. These are stories and images made with joy and brought to you with Spring energy. Being North or South, might it inspire you in your next holidays! Take a look!



The Architecture blend

One of the things I find fascinating about Coimbra is the quality and the historical mix of architecture it covers. Architecture built over centuries lives harmoniously in this city in a very special way. 

Roman, Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Mannerism, Baroque, Modernism, International Style, Português Suave style (one of Estado Novo's architecture style) and Modern architecture are all present! Here's a taste of my my inner tour in some of those striking examples.

In the urbanist and archaeological chapter of this city, are included buildings from the 18th century (as the Botanical Garden), 16th century (e.g. University royal palace), 11th century (e.g. Almedina Tower), or the 1st/2nd century (e.g. Roman underground city Aeminium, whose cryptoporticus can be visited in the Machado de Castro Museum. It is the biggest of its kind in Portugal).

Santiago Church silhouette, in São Bartolomeu District. 
One of the examples of the Romanesque architecture in the city.

Detail of the Old cathedral of Coimbra (foundations built in 1139)

Santa Cruz Monastery

One other example, is the Monastery of Santa Cruz.
 The foundations of one of the National Pantheons, are Romanesque and dated between 1132 and 1223. Though, over time, the church had several refurbishments done, until what we can see today. Those include a full refurbishment in the 16th century in Manueline style, tiles from the 18th century, and a triumphal arch from the 19th century, just to name a few. Defining, here, was the artistic contribute of Diogo de BoitacaNicolau ChantereneJoão de RuãoGrão Vasco and Cristóvão de Figueiredo.

King Afonso Henriques (the 1st king of Portugal, founder of the nation and of this monastery) and his son, King Sancho I, are buried here. The monastery was also one of the best ecclesiastical schools in medieval Portugal, and was where Saint Anthony of Padua (or Saint Anthony of Lisbon) studied Latin and Theology. Reportedly, Luis de Camões studied there too.

Right next to this historical city hub, there is a musical oasis, Salão Brazil, one of my favorite concert venues in Coimbra. I have made several drawings there, and have published one of them here.

Interior of the New Cathedral of Coimbra. Tiles from the 17th century and holy water sink.

One can read "Please do not talk in the church", a detail inside the New Cathedral of Coimbra. The Cathedral started to be built in 1598.  I felt the need to photograph this, in contrast to the smashing magnificence of this church.

Besides all that, in the 20th century, and during almost 30 years (from the 40's to the early 70's), the Alta district was largely refurbished. The biggest national names in the arts scene were called to participate, and forever mark this city's identity. 

Top-notch painters, sculptures and architects carried out an urbanist revolution here.
Almada NegreirosLeopoldo de AlmeidaCottinelli TelmoCristino da Silva, and many others, were some of the major figures involved.

Salvador Barata Feyo's sculptures (from 1951) at the entrance of the Letters College, with the University Palace as background. The four figures represent Demosthenes (Politics & Eloquence), Aristotle (Philosophy), Thucydides (History) and Sappho (Poetry). 

South wing of the Department of Mathematics

The Department of Mathematics dates from 1969 and it's a project from the Portuguese architect Lucínio Guia da Cruz. It is one of my favorite buildings in Coimbra! The concept, the breeziness... I absolutely love it!!


View to the Queen Elizabeth or Europe Bridge and Mondego River

On top of that, more recently, all this amazing background was enriched with contemporary architecture examples, such as Museu Machado de Castro (I wrote more about it below), and the view you have from Alta to the bridge (Engineered by António Reis and designed by Bureau d'études Greisch).
Inside the buildings, there are also pearls, like the recent Law College Auditorium done by Architect Fernando Távora.
With all this, no wonder Alta and Sofia districts are UNESCO's world Heritage!

Other points of interest inside the University, include, for instance, the Joanina Library in full Barroque style or the Fox tile.


The "Raposa" or the Fox tile

Why am I mentioning a single tile? Well, this one holds an interesting story and reveals a lot of the student life in Coimbra.
It is said that out of the hundreds of tiles existent in the University, there is only one with a fox. This tile is located in a small atrium in the way from Via Latina to Gerais.
It has a sort of a ritual associated with it. It is said that touching or kicking three times (!!) this fox tile, will help students pass their exams. This explains the lousy state the tile is in!



A fresh look to the ancient


Still in Alta de Coimbra district, is located Machado de Castro's Museum where once was, the former Bishop's Palace. Keeping and restoring the old structures, it was refurbished and expanded in 2008, with a project by the Portuguese architect Gonçalo Byrne. The building won the Piranesi Prix de Rome




And there are so many reasons for that! This is not a "regular" museum, since its building actually is itself a piece of live history of the genesis of the city. 

In the terrace of the museum's restaurant, Loggia.

Besides that, Loggia is the perfect spot for a sunny lunch break.
The package includes a meal with a fantastic view over the city.



A visit is worth, not only by the astonishing museum collection, as by the architecture, the location, the city view, the restaurant and the graphic design, inside. It is also an accessible museum, with special activities for such publics.

The light maneuvered as play-doh, wrapping the space and the masterpieces.

A witty light design


This museum, is a great example of how architecture perfectly manipulated the light, in favor of the existent masterpieces, from the dark and massive Roman cryptoporticus, passing through the light design, to where the windows, are placed, in the newest part.  Absolutely sublime. 

Not revealing much about any museum's masterpiece, was a deliberate choice of mine. I find it all so good, that I think you should see it with your own eyes!




Inspiring calls


The time passed in Coimbra, was creative time to me.
Not only historically, but also visually, I felt like this city was having marvelous dialogues with me.
The proof is here.

Beauty in small details

The colors, the movement and the happy-go-lucky attitude

A colorful clothes-line flutters the white street

The colors, the light, the shapes and the angles

The different volumetry, height and color combo

Detail of the cloister of the New Cathedral of Coimbra

Sunset between Colleges

The elegance and the dignity of this balcony


Coverlet and pillow's fabric detail in the New Cathedral of Coimbra


Clinical Analysis, roses and a balcony. Sounds much more dulcet. And reminded me of the Saint Elizabeth's miracle, with bread transformed into roses. A religious legend of the city.




This is my city type


You guys know I can't resist a type! Wherever I looked, there was an interesting typography to photograph! Here are some of the alphabets I loved the most.

Horticultural of Coimbra

Letters College


Carlos Guimarães Lawyer

The cats street

Modern Salon Hairdresser



Street poetry


And how would it be if - besides the official typography - walls would calligraphically scream at you feelings, doubts, quotes, or sounds? That's exactly the feeling I had when I took these pics: an open book of the city's soul.

"Don't want to hear catcalls in the street"

? ? ? Why ? !!!

"Fear kills"

Bird song

A bird landed on my shoulder. What can I do?
Music follows me everywhere :)

Life (vida) Toilets (sanitários)

- Here no hazing
- If Medicine doesn't want to

Controversial or not, initiation rituals known as Praxe, make part of Coimbra's University current practice. I found funny that this "confront" about hazing, kept the black and white colors, in line with the ones in Coimbra's Academic Association logo and Coimbra's academic dresses (Batina and capa).

"What is good for garbage is good for poetry"

This one up, quotes a poem by the Brazilian Poet, Manoel de Barros. The original poem can be read here.


The obligation to produce alienates the passion to create.

The one above, is a sentence written by the Belgium philosopher Raoul Vaneigem, in his book The Decline and Fall of Work

Overall, these street poets made my city stroll much more fun and unexpected!



Literary Nest


Here's some facts about the Portuguese language: it's the 4th language most spoken in the world, the 3rd most spoken in Europe and the 1st most spoken in Southern hemisphere. It is spoken by 250 million people all over the world.

That being said, it's good to remind that the city that gave birth to the Portuguese language as we know it nowadays, was Coimbra!

For many centuries, Coimbra had the only Portuguese language University in the world.
It welcomed and educated several generations of thinkers, decision makers in the country, politicians, writers, philosophers, musicians and many other relevant Portuguese-speaking icons.

So, no wonder the city is also known for its literary strand.

The facade of the house where the poet Eugénio de Castro was born, in 1869.

Besides Eugénio de Castro, the city gave birth to other poets such as Sá de Miranda. And, the University of Coimbra, was a place where poets and writers from various epochs, like Luís de Camões, Antero de Quental, Almeida GarrettMário de Sá Carneiro, Vergílio FerreiraMiguel Torga, Ruben A. and many others passed by, as students. 

Since Luís de Camões is considered the most important Lusophone poet, and Portugal is a country of poets itself, the Day of Portugal, Camões, and the Portuguese Communities, is in the day he died.

But exactly when (it's only known his birth year was around 1524) and where he was born (guesses include Alenquer, Coimbra, Constância, and Lisbon) is still a mystery.
His tomb is next to Vasco da Gama's, in Jerónimos Monastery, in Lisbon. (Jerónimos Monastery, Santa Cruz Monastery, Santa Engrácia Church and Batalha Monastery are all national pantheons)

Other notorious students of the University of Coimbra, include Marquis of Pombal (Head of the Portuguese Government in the 18th century, and great reformer of Lisbon after the 1755 earthquake), Egas Moniz (who won the Medicine Nobel Prize) and Manuel de Arriaga (1st Portuguese President). Many musicians studied there too, but I will write a bit more about that, below.




The University & Fado Music


Coimbra is one of the Portuguese cities that has a music style and instrument of its own: Coimbra's Fado and the Coimbra Portuguese guitar. Fado music (from which Coimbra's Fado is a specific genre) is UNESCO's intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Being a lively student City, Coimbra has one of the oldest Universities in the world. It was started in 1290 in Lisbon, and then relocated in Coimbra until now, since 1537! Many Portuguese Kings were born here, and a lot of politic decisions were made inside the University too.

A student's black cape, part of the official Coimbra's Academic Dress, also used in Tunas.


These two - Fado music and the University - kept, until nowadays, a close relationship through the "Tunas" (academic musical groups) and by musician-students like Artur ParedesEdmundo BettencourtAntónio MenanoLuíz GoesCarlos ParedesFernando AlvimAntónio BrojoZeca AfonsoAdriano Correia de OliveiraJorge ChaminéJosé Cid, and many others!
Not all of them followed the Fado expression. And sure one should have in mind, that Coimbra has provided much more than this musical style.

Anyways, from the 1950's on, and as a reaction towards Salazar's dictatorship, the older Coimbra Fado approach gave place to a new movement. Musicians like Adriano Correia de Oliveira and Zeca Afonso, started to use as lyrics, classic and contemporary Portuguese poetry, having a greater focus on folk music and ballads. They totally revolutionized the music scene in Portugal. 

Grândola Vila Morena (a censorship banned song, at the time) by Zeca Afonso, was the song broadcasted in Radio Renascença, on the 25th of April of 1974 at 12:20am, and used as a code to announce the troops to move forward and make the Portuguese Carnation Revolution happen. Embracing the ideals of democracy and freedom, Zeca Afonso and his music, became a major cultural icon for generations to come.

On the other hand, Carlos Paredes's family, was already rich in elements (Artur Paredes, his dad; Gonçalo Paredes, his grandfather, and Manuel Rodrigues Paredes, his great-uncle) that mastered the Portuguese Coimbra Guitar. But he, not only soaked up all his family's and Coimbra's musical tradition, as he changed the course and the identity of Portuguese traditional music.
Adding innovative elements and his own composition style, he recorded several albums and collaborated with artists like Amália RodriguesCharlie Haden, Chico Buarque, or Carlos do Carmo (Latin Grammy Award winner). 
He died in 2004, but his worth remains unquestionable and his talent recognized worldwide. 
His legacy is alive, not only through his music, as through contemporary artists, that use samples of his music, and contribute to keep making the Portuguese music evolve to something continuously new, as he also did. One of my favorite examples thereof, is the song Viva! from Sam the Kid

And speaking about Sam the Kid, he will be the headline act of the next Queima das Fitas (Burning of the Ribbons). This is the golden moment of the year regarding Coimbra's student life, and also of Coimbra Fado. It's a huge city party, organized by the Students Commission, on the pretext of the new graduates. It includes a week full of concerts, bands, photography, poetry and stand up comedy contests, and many other activities. Take a look at this Monumental Serenade, from last year's event opening.

As the previous link proves, to this day, most of Coimbra songs' thematic is about the student life, the life in the city, the romances, and the history of Coimbra.
A popular song of this type of genre, that I must mention - because it was the inspiration for this article's title - is Balada da despedida, from Fernando Machado Soares. The lyrics say: "Coimbra tem mais encanto na hora da despedida" (something like "Coimbra has more enchant at the time of farewell". See the full lyrics translation here).  



Capital of love 



But, one the most famous Coimbra Fado music's worldwide, probably is Coimbra, sung by Amália Rodrigues.

Originally, the song made part of the movie Black Capes (1947), that was the first movie Amália starred in (She did plenty more. See here). It was a blockbuster in Portuguese Cinema, and propelled Amália to an internationally acclaimed career. The success was such, that later on, an English version of the song was made (called April in Portugal).
Great artists, like Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby, Perez Prado, Chet Atkins, and Roberto Carlos got inspired (check the links to hear their amazing versions!), and all of them have made covers of that song.
 Unsurprisingly, Amália Rodrigues has sold over 30 million records worldwide and is still the best selling artist in Portugal. She passed away in 1999 and the country mourned deeply. Amália is so emblematic in Portuguese culture, that she is buried among the kings, in the Santa Engrácia Church (National Pantheon) in Lisbon.

The portuguese lyrics of "Coimbra" have several references to the university course, and to the romance of Inês de Castro and King Pedro I of Portugal. (Lyrics translation can be found here).
The link between this love story and this university city, lies in the fact that, that was where they both secretly used to meet, more specifically in Quinta das Lágrimas, whose name (Estate of Tears) derives from the tragic end of this story.
Back then, the hunting grounds of the royal family was Quinta das Lágrimas, where Inês de Castro was killed at the behest of King Pedro I's father (King Afonso IV, who was against the relationship). She died for love, and therefore, perpetuated herself for eternity as a heroine.
This whole story, generated a love legend and inspired many artists over centuries, to do texts and songs like Coimbra. Nowadays the property is a 5* hotel and one of its restaurants, Arcadas, has one Michelin star. For our delight, the gardens can be visited.

 There are so many good things to discover, and to say about this city. I hope you enjoyed the ride!
I have been many times to this town, and I'm looking forward for the next time I go there.
Meanwhile, Coimbra, will remain in my memory with great (en)chant.

This article is dedicated to Néné.

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