1st October ~ leaving Porto
We left Porto fairly early as we had 66 nautical miles to do and preferably we like to arrive into a new port before it is dark!
There was quite a thick sea fret outside the entrance to the river but we are getting quite used to these now and they are not so daunting as they might appear! It is usually possible to see above to the blue skies which will eventually win the day!! More worrying are the myriad of fishing pots which we need to avoid at all costs while motoring!
Passage to Figueira da Foz
The wind eventually arrived and so up went our trusty cruising chute and away we went, not especially fast but we still managed to average 6.2 knots for the 10 hour trip in not very much wind, so not at all bad and we had a visit from some dolphins too!!
After ten hours sailing in glorious sunshine, for the most part, we arrived at the entrance to Figueira da Foz on the River Mondego, the longest river to rise in Portugal! There was no-one to meet us this time, the marina office closed quite early and so found the best place we could to moor which turned out to be beside a Dutch boat, ‘Le Tournesol ‘who we had met in Viana do Castelo and in Porto too. This couple, as we find with most Dutch people, turned out to be very friendly, we ended up with them coming on board Musetta for a glass of wine later!
2nd October ~ Discovering Figueira da Foz
The fort is mainly a ruin having been involved in various historical battles and wars it fell into disrepair and no money has been secured to restore it.
Part of it is leased to the Figueira tennis club and at the beginning of the twentieth century the iron lighthouse was constructed in the middle of the main square which was to become a vital aid to navigation at the entrance to the Mondego river.
Origin of the name ~ Figueira da Foz?
Legend tells us that Figueira is named after a fig tree which stood on the quay where the fishermen used to tie up their boats.
However, another theory is that Figueira comes from the word Fagaria meaning opening, huge mouth. Foz means mouth of a river and so Figueira da Foz would be, the the wide estuary of the river at Figueira!! I guess the latter is the most intellectual and possibly the more logical explanation but perhaps a mixture of the two is perfectly acceptable?!
Picturesque and elegant Figueira!
The old town was lovely with tree lined narrow streets and very elegant houses, we really liked it and thought it one of the more ‘up-market’ holiday resorts. The river front has been brought up to date in a very sympathetic way, it was all very clean and pleasing to the eye.
Wow, look what’s here!! This was the most interesting and surprising find on our wanderings through the back streets!!! I really hadn’t given bull fighting much thought in recent times, possibly even subconsciously thinking it didn’t happen any more? How wrong could I have been?!
The Bullring in Figueira da Foz!
At first we we thought it was all closed up and no longer in use but we kept walking round and found a gate open and a workman, possibly a caretaker inside obviously preparing for something and who was more than happy for us to go in and look around!! It was immaculate and quite obviously being prepared for a forthcoming event!
I discovered that Figueira da Foz has deeply rooted bullfighting traditions and this Neo-Gothic building was completed in 1895. It was officially inaugurated in August 1895 with great pomp and ceremony! It was very exciting to find this bullring, I had never been in one before and this one was so old, in immaculate condition and is obviously in regular use! Totally amazing!!
I’m not at all sure that I would like to go to a bullfight and I had a quiet chuckle to myself at the memory of my Father’s exodus from a bullfight in Lisbon where he and my mother had been taken as guests of our Portuguese friends! He just couldn’t bear it and had to leave disturbing countless spectators in his efforts to get out!!!
Behind the scenes ~ The Bull’s Eye View!
We came to Figueira da Foz originally so that we could go to visit the University City of Coimbra! Little did we know that Figueira itself would prove to be so pleasant and so interesting too!
3rd October ~ Coimbra
The city of Coimbra was approximately an hour away, 48 kilometres, by train and a definite must for us to visit as it had been recommended by so many people. We made the short walk from the marina to the train station and true to form the train left precisely on time and arrived in Coimbra precisely on time!!
This statue of King João III was erected in the square of the Royal Palace as a tribute to the King Emeritus of the University of Coimbra .
Tour of the University!
We took a taxi to the main part of the town and were very fortunate with our choice of driver! He could obviously see that we were tourists and suggested that he take us up to the University first mainly because that was where most people wanted to go and that everything else we might want to see from the University was down hill!! He dropped us here at the Faculty of Medicine and the New Cathedral
Coimbra (pronounced Kwibra – silent “m”) is known as the University City of Portugal whose origins can be traced back to the 13th Century and these days has students from 80 different nations! A truly international university. The site for general studies alternated between Lisbon and Coimbra but in 1537 King João III ordered that the university should finally be settled in Coimbra.
We booked ourselves on a tour which seemed the only sensible way to view the university! The tours are really designed to control the people going through the famous library and the chapel. Other parts of the university were sort of ‘free-flow’ and so we saw those while we waited for our designated Library and Chapel tour to start.
As expected, the University was stunning and to view it on such a perfect day was so lucky for us! As with any sight-seeing, if the skies had been grey or it was raining, we probably would have had a very different opinion?
The Porta Férrea is an iron gate but faced with all the stonework to be see here in the photo. The gate is the same on both sides, topped with the female figure of wisdom, Minerva. The two kings who shaped the history of the University are also depicted here, King Dinis and King João III. The two female figures to each side of the archway entrance represent the major faculties of the time, Law and Medicine on the outside and Theology and Canons on the inside. Such intricate detail, telling such a huge story!
The university insignia represents Sapience or Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom. She is depicted in the Portuguese-style paving which with it’s Arab and Roman influence is a feature of all the cobble paving we have come across in Portugal!
A very prominent feature in the main quadrangle of the university. There are four bells in the tower and the best known one is the one which faces the river and is famously known as the “Goat” ! It’s deep chimes the prelude to the university’s timings and rituals.
St Michael’s Chapel
This, like the library, was a controlled entry! We waited for our turn but wow, it was amazing, especially the painted ceilings and the blue tiling! It was so pretty!
It wasn’t very big but it was beautiful especially the organ which dates from 1737 and is typically Baroque in style. It is decorated with gold leaf and chinese motifs, Chinoiserie. It has approximately 2000 tubes and is in perfect working order. The chapel is consecrated and is used for Sunday mass, weddings and baptisms and sacred music concerts.
The Joanine Library
The Joanine Library – no photos were allowed but I took some anyway! The Joanine library is one of two libraries in the world (The Mafra Palace library being the other ) to have a colony of bats present!! Every night all the shelves and tables are covered over and then the bats eat the insects which would otherwise destroy the books?! Amazing?!
The Joanine Library – I had to take this second photo from the internet as I was definitely not allowed to take a photo here!
Before going up to the first floor of the library we were able to look at the ‘Academic Prison’ which was like a dungeon with cells leading off it. It’s main function was to keep students and their families away from common criminals. The students were condemned to the prison for minor disciplinary indiscretions! It all sounds very odd to me?
The vaulted ceilings in the Library
The square of the Royal palace was stunningly beautiful….
….Here are the three sides with the square, the open side of the square has the statue of King João III which absolutely dominates the scene and has the river Mondego, where this blog post begins, behind him. This is seen in the top photo with the exits onto the square of the Joanine Library and St Michel’s Chapel.
What an amazing place to visit and to study in!
The Botanical Gardens
There were many students making their way towards the gardens for lectures as we tourists mingled with them It seems strange that University life continues while tourists are milling around? I guess it is the same for the students in our University cities?
The Botanical Gardens part of the Faculty of Natural History!
The gardens cover 13 hectares of land, a large part of which was donated by the Benedictine Monks, and are said to be one of the most beautiful in Europe. They start at the top of the hill by the university and behind a viaduct wall and extend right down into the city. They were absolutely lovely and very varied too!
Pretty street scenes leading down to the River.
It was now time to start heading downhill and see all the delights in the old part of the city. It was most attractive with lots of restaurants which spill out onto the streets leaving only a narrow walkway in between.
The Chiado Building is a fine example of Iron Architecture which, at the time it was built in 1910, was a cheap material to use. It is now converted it into the municipal museum.
The old Cathedral – Sé Velha de Coimbra
From the outside it looked like a small fortress and rather forbidding. It is Romanesque in style but with a strong Arab influence too.
The Front and Rear views of the Old Cathedral!
Because it was built on the side of a hill, the front is reinforced with thick buttresses. When you look at the back of the cathedral it easy to see why it needed the buttresses to support all that stonework! Sadly, we couldn’t go inside as there was going to be a concert later that evening and the process of setting it all up was in progress, so disappointing!
We continued our walk back down the hill and eventually we came to the river. We made our way to the train station to return to Figueira and Musetta. We sat on the train and reflected on our day, feeling so fortunate that we had time to visit these incredible places as we sail south! What a lovely day!
Figueira da Foz was a fascinating stop over which we thoroughly enjoyed and were so pleased that we had made the time to pass by!
Coming next Nazaré, a place famous for a very different reason….