Coimbra, Portugal: University Traditions – Rick Steves’ Europe Travel Guide – Travel Bite

Coimbra, Portugal: University Traditions – Rick Steves’ Europe Travel Guide – Travel Bite

October 25, 2019 31 By Stanley Isaacs


Coimbra is home
to the country’s oldest and most prestigious
university, founded in 1290. As a traveler, it’s fun to drop into this venerable
academic world. 700 years ago,
Coimbra’s university taught the medieval basics, like law, medicine,
and theology. Later, as Portuguese sailors
were navigating the globe, astronomy and geometry
were added. The university’s Baroque library has an impressive collection
of antique books. University researchers
are still allowed to read these centuries-old volumes. King John V still
oversees the library he founded in the early 1700s. ♪♪ The reading tables,
inlaid with exotic woods — ebony from Sri Lanka
and rosewood from Brazil — come with silver inkwells. The gold leaf is South American. And the motifs are Chinese. ♪♪ Everything reminds us
that Portugal’s wealth was both immense
and imported. The heavy teak door is kept shut
to keep out the humidity. ♪♪ When school’s in session, Coimbra bustles with
a youthful energy. We’re here in May, and students
are out in the streets as they celebrate the completion
of another year of studies. [ Group chanting in Portuguese ] [ Group cheering ] [ Applause ] Many Coimbra students
live together, in groups of about a dozen, in communal houses
called repúblicas. Today, these function
as tiny fraternities, each with their own personality and an unbridled urge
to express it. With the help of a couple
of six-packs, Cristina and I have tucked
ourselves in for dinner, and within moments, we’re engulfed
in stimulating conversation. Do you guys talk politics
like this all the time? -Yes, yes.
-I like that. Students here see formal
education as job training and their time in these
co-ops as life training. They brag that, in one year
of this communal living, you gain social skills
that’ll last a lifetime. The conversation rages on
at the dinner table. Part of the ethic of república
living is eating together. No cellphones are
allowed at the table. The students pool their money
to hire a cook so everyone can enjoy
this enriching social time. -Hey!
-Hey! -And whenever there’s
a memorable event, like a visit from
an American film crew, the gang shares
a special cheer. [ Group chanting in Portuguese ] -Whoa!
-Whoa!