Located in the heart of the historic center, the Old Cathedral of Coimbra (Sé Velha de Coimbra in Portuguese) is a stunning example of Romanesque architecture that has stood the test of time for nearly 9 centuries!
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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 Brief History of the Old Cathedral of Coimbra (Sé Velha de Coimbra)
Origins of the Old Cathedral of Coimbra
Construction of the Old Cathedral of Coimbra began in the late 12th century, shortly after Afonso Henriques declared himself the King of Portugal following his victory over the Moors at the Battle of Ourique in 1139.
The plans for Sé Velha were crafted by Master Robert, a renowned architect (possibly of French origin) who had already gained fame in Portugal for his significant contributions to the construction of Lisbon Cathedral. The construction of the Old Cathedral of Coimbra was overseen by another architect, likely French, named Master Bernard. He was later succeeded by Master Soeiro, known for his involvement in constructing several churches within the Diocese of Porto.
It took several decades for the Cathedral of Coimbra to be completed. Finally consecrated in 1184, the work on the cathedral continued even beyond that date. The cloister was added during the 13th century.
From the 16th to the 18th Century
Significant renovations took place during the 16th century, including the addition of azulejos, colorful porcelain tiles adorned with intricate geometric patterns influenced by Iberian and Moorish styles. Additionally, the spectacular Renaissance-style Porta Especiosa was constructed on the northern façade of the cathedral.
In the 18th century, the episcopal seat was moved to the New Cathedral of Coimbra (Sé Nova de Coimbra), a splendid Baroque-style cathedral that is also worth a visit!
The Old Cathedral of Coimbra Today
Sé Velha de Coimbra stands as one of the few Portuguese cathedrals from the Romanesque period that has remained remarkably well-preserved throughout the ages. As a witness to the birth and evolution of Portugal over the centuries, it is an essential stop for any curious traveler eager to learn more about the country’s rich history.
Exploring the Old Cathedral of Coimbra (Sé Velha de Coimbra)
Blending elements of Romanesque architecture with Moorish and Gothic influences inherited from the Reconquista, a medieval period characterized by the Christian reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula, the architectural style of Sé Velha de Coimbra reflects the dynamic and diverse cultural heritage of early Portugal.
The Exterior of the Old Cathedral of Coimbra
Before stepping inside the cathedral, take a moment to admire its impressive exterior architecture.
With its crenelated walls and slender windows, the Old Cathedral of Coimbra evokes the aura of a medieval fortress. Don’t miss the beautiful lantern tower, as well as the magnificent Renaissance-style Porta Especiosa (located on the north façade of the building), by the way, the work of a French artist: Jean de Rouen.
The Interior of the Old Cathedral of Coimbra
> Cathedral Structure
The cathedral is structured around a nave with an upper level, crowned by a barrel vault, and flanked by two aisles, a small transept, and an apse housing three chapels.
Make your way to the main chapel to marvel at the exquisite altarpiece, a splendid example of flamboyant Gothic style crafted in gilded wood during the 16th century by Olivier de Gand and Jean d’Ypres. Regarded as one of Portugal’s finest, it portrays the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.
While some of the colorful ceramic tiles adorned with geometric motifs, known as azulejos, added during the 16th century have been lost, you can still find them on the left wall as you enter the cathedral, as well as in the chapels and on funerary monuments.
> Columns and Capitals
The Old Cathedral of Coimbra boasts an impressive collection of around 380 columns, each crowned with capitals adorned with intricate vegetal patterns, as well as depictions of animals and geometric shapes influenced by the rich Arab-Muslim heritage.
Within the cathedral, you will discover several Gothic-style tombs from the 13th and 14th centuries, featuring recumbent effigies, including the notable sepulcher of Lady Vataça Lascaris.
An enchanting oasis nestled in the heart of the city, the cloister seamlessly blends Romanesque and Gothic influences. It proudly holds the distinction of being Portugal’s oldest cloister.
Getting to Sé Velha de Coimbra
The Old Cathedral of Coimbra is situated in the historic center of the city, not far from the university (and the magnificent Joanina Library). Be aware that the cathedral is perched on a hill, necessitating a climb to reach it. However, this provides an excellent opportunity to explore the picturesque cobblestone streets of the old town.
Alternatively, you can opt for the convenience of bus line 103.
Opening Hours of the Old Cathedral of Coimbra
The Old Cathedral of Coimbra is open:
- Weekdays: 10:00 AM to 5:30 PM
- Saturdays: 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM
- Sundays: 11:00 AM to 5:00 PM
Please note that opening hours are subject to change.
Admission Fees for the Old Cathedral of Coimbra
There is an entrance fee to access the cathedral: €2.50 for full admission.
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