Anchored in a rich collection of historical artefacts and boasting stunning architecture, the National Museum Machado de Castro in Coimbra is a treasure trove for art and history lovers.
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💡 The Captain’s tip 💡
Curious about Coimbra’s history? Captain Ulysses highly recommends this free guided tour of the capital (in English). You can choose the tip you want to leave the guide—it’s entirely up to you!
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A Peek into the Past of the National Museum Machado de Castro in Coimbra
Unveiled to the public in 1913, the National Museum Machado de Castro was named in honor of one of the most renowned Portuguese sculptors of the 18th century, Joaquim Machado de Castro.
The museum is nestled within the ancient Episcopal Palace of Coimbra, a structure with its own fascinating history dating back to the Middle Ages and further still, built atop the remnants of the Roman city, Aeminium. One awe-inspiring feature that stands to this day is the cryptoporticus, an impressive subterranean structure.
From 2000 to 2012, the museum underwent a complete transformation under the guidance of architect Gonçalo Byrne, whose remarkable work earned him the esteemed Rome Prize in 2014.
Today, the museum holds a premier spot on the must-visit list for tourists in Coimbra, rubbing shoulders with other noteworthy attractions like the University, the Cathedral, the Monastery of Santa Cruz, and the Botanical Garden.
Visiting Machado de Castro National Museum in Coimbra
Machado de Castro National Museum stands as a captivating blend of architectural history and modern design. Its roots trace back to the 12th century, where it started life as an Episcopal palace. Between 2000 and 2012, it went through an extensive restoration, breathing new life into the ancient structure.
Historic stonework now merges effortlessly with modern materials such as glass and steel. Large panoramic windows flood the interior with natural light, and glass walkways offer an intriguing view of the archaeological marvels lying beneath. The museum has also flawlessly integrated the underground Roman cryptoporticus into the overall structure.
Be sure to venture up to the rooftop terrace for an unrivalled panoramic view of the city of Coimbra!
The Roman Cryptoporticus
Without a doubt, the Roman cryptoporticus is a highlight of the National Museum Machado de Castro. In fact, it ranks among the best-preserved ancient relics in Portugal.
But what is a cryptoporticus? It’s a quintessential aspect of Roman architecture—a basement or subterranean gallery, typically used to stabilise buildings constructed on hilly terrain. In Coimbra’s case, the cryptoporticus was a part of the ancient Roman city of Aeminium, the foundation of today’s city.
This cryptoporticus consists of a labyrinth of subterranean galleries, upheld by sturdy columns and arches. It dates back to the first half of the 1st century AD, a period of Roman dominion in the region.
Over the centuries, the cryptoporticus served many purposes, notably as a foundation for Coimbra’s former Episcopal palace during the Middle Ages. Today, thanks to the museum’s renovation, visitors can wander through these historical corridors, taking a walk through time.
The Museum’s Collections
The National Museum Machado de Castro’s collections are as diverse as they are vast, unfolding a rich tapestry of art and artifacts spanning centuries.
Roman Relics: The museum is not just home to the cryptoporticus; it’s also a treasure trove of Roman artifacts. From sculptures and inscriptions to objects of daily life, the Roman collection is truly extensive. Highlights include a captivating statue of Apollo and an intriguing collection of Roman boat anchors.
Medieval Masterpieces: The museum shelters a remarkable array of medieval sculptures, featuring both Romanesque and Gothic styles. These works offer invaluable insights into the artistic and religious transitions Portugal underwent during the Middle Ages.
Machado de Castro’s Creations: Paying homage to its namesake, the museum displays numerous works by the sculptor Joaquim Machado de Castro. One of his most acclaimed pieces is the proud statue of Portugal’s first king, Afonso Henriques, which commands attention in the museum courtyard.
Sacred Artifacts: Additionally, the museum is rich in sacred art, housing an array of liturgical objects, reliquaries, crosses, altars, and devotional images. Most of these have been sourced from the area’s churches and monasteries.
Contemporary Creations: Ever-changing and dynamic, the museum’s collection of contemporary art hosts works from a diverse range of Portuguese and international artists.
Additional Treasures: The museum’s offerings extend beyond these collections, featuring ceramics, textiles, jewelry, and illuminated manuscripts. This amalgamation of artifacts paints a complete picture of Portugal’s vibrant artistic and cultural journey.
How to Reach Coimbra’s Machado de Castro National Museum
Nestled in the bustling heart of Coimbra, and just a short stroll from the University of Coimbra, Machado de Castro National Museum is conveniently accessible by foot, car, or public transportation.
Operating Hours of Coimbra’s Machado de Castro National Museum
You can explore the museum from Tuesday to Sunday, between the hours of 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Please note, the museum remains closed on Mondays and on certain public holidays.
Entry Prices for Coimbra’s Machado de Castro National Museum
General admission is set at 6 euros, but we offer discounted rates for students, seniors, and groups. Plus, the first Sunday of every month sees free entry for all visitors.