Portugal’s Oldest and Largest University:
There’s a buzz about Coimbra University today. We arrive on its orientation day and there’s a sense of excitement as new students come to check out their new campus, attend inductions and to get some tips from senior students.
Universidade de Coimbra (Coimbra University) is Portugal’s oldest and largest university with a student population of 20,000. It is also a very cosmopolitan university with one of the largest community of international students.
The students are all very formally dressed in black suits and tie on orientation day and the odd person or two that we see in jeans and tracks shoes are the tourists.
On a very hot afternoon, the first thing we notice is the long black capes that students wear – even in the sweltering summer heat. And, if you’ve been to Porto and the House of Sandeman, you’ll recognize that this black cape is the inspiration behind the very successful House of Sandeman trademark.
Sewn inside the cape, you’ll see badges of universities that the student has attended. The European Union (EU) subsidizes students to study for six months in different EU universities. This is a fantastic practice as it broadens the students’ perspective of other European countries and gives students cross-cultural experiences which may help in their working lives down the track. Coimbra University itself takes in a lot of EU students and at any time up to 5% of the student population may be EU intakes.
You get a sense that the students at Coimbra are very proud of their University. They are also very obliging when asked to pose for photographs. We’ve come here today specially to see its magnificent Biblioteca Joanina, which is the subject of another post.
History of Coimbra University
The Universidade de Coimbra, founded by King Dinis on 1st of March 1290 in Lisbon, is one of the world’s oldest universities and the pride of Coimbra.
The University shifted locations between Lisbon and Coimbra until 1537, when with a new curriculum and teaching staff, the University was finally settled here in the Alcaçova Palace, by order of King João III.
Another major educational reform took place under the auspices of the Marquis of Pombal between 1772 and 1777. Prior to the time of the Marquis, all rectors of the University were monks and most of the studies were in the areas of theology, medicine and law. The Marquis expelled the Jesuits and appointed a layman to head the University and the curriculum was broadened. Mathematics and Philisophy were added to the Arts, Civil law, Canon Law, Medicine and Theology Faculties that were already in existence.
Architecturally, the campus which sits at the top of Alcaçova hill, underwent its most important transformations in the 1940’s, 1950’s and 1960’s, with the building of the present installations of the Faculty of Letters, the General Library and the University Archive, and the Faculties of Medicine and of Sciences and Technology.
The University currently consists of eight faculties – Letters, Law, Medicine, Sciences and Technology, Pharmacy, Economics, Psychology & Education and Sports Sciences & Physical Education.