Palace of Schools

Average Tour Duration: 1h30min

Enjoy a visit to the Palace of Schools (Baroque Library, Saint Michael's Chapel and Royal Palace) of the University of Coimbra, accompanied by a UC Guide.

n addition to guided visits in Portuguese, and English visits in French are also available. These are subject to availability on the day of the visit. 

Spaces Opening Hours

 Palace of Schools

11:00

15:00

Included Spaces

Baroque Library

The Baroque Library is the best example of Portuguese Baroque and is considered to be one of the richest European libraries. It is also known as the Joanina Library in honour and memory of King John V, who authorised its construction and whose portrait, painted by Domenico Duprà, distinctly dominates the space inside the Noble Floor.  Construction on the Baroque Library was completed in 1728.  It functioned as the University Library from 1777 until the first half of the 20th century. It holds 60 thousand books, dating from the 16th century to the 18th century, on a wide variety of topics that can still be consulted today. This building is devided into 3 floors:  The Noble Floor The Noble Floor consists of three halls filled with shelves and varandas ornamented with rich carvings and gold paintings against a black background in the first hall, a red background in the second hall and a green background in the third hall. The three halls are connected by archways decorated with crests. The lining is made of wood, painted to resemble marble. The walls are lined with two storeys of gilded multi-coloured oak shelves. Six embossed tables made from precious tropical woods can be found throughout the halls. The figures on the ceilings were carefully chosen and contain messages connecgted to the University's ideals that are still relevant today. The three floors that make up the building house nearly 60 000 volumes, representing the best of what was printed throughout Europe between the 15th and 18th centuries. Most of these books are part of our electronic catalogue and are still sought after. An average of 750 works are requested each year. The Library is undertaking a selective digitalisation process. The building is a vault primarily designed to preserve books: the exterior walls are 2 metres 11 centimetres (6 feet, 11inches) thick. In addition to moisture and temperature, books can also be affected by insects that feed on paper. To prevent this, the shelves are made from oak, known for their density, durability, and odour that keeps insects away. For about two and a half centuries, two colonies of bats have lived in the library to help with pest control. The presence of these mammals, however, requires additional precaution: at the end of each day, the tables are covered with leather "towels." This procedure, which was common in temples and palaces, still helps to prevent the damage caused by the animals' waste products. The Middle Floor This hall served two purposes: it supported the guards who watched over the academic prison (closed in 1834) and operated as a deposit for the books read on the Noble Floor. Prior to its inclusion in the University's tourist route (on 1 November 2010), this space was used for the preservation of ancient books: cleaning, restoration, and cataloguing. It is thought that during the 19th century, the floor may have also have been used as living quarters for professors and other members of the academic community. Initially, there was no easy access between the intermediate floor and the noble floor. The stairs that today connect the two floors of the Library were only built at the end of the 19th century. The floor is still used for the exhibition of documents. One of the most interesting elements about this space are the small markings on the stones of the arch, made by the stonemasons, which are still visible today. In essence, little care was taken to create a rich and beautiful space on this floor. The finishings are simple and the stones were kept in their natural state. Each stonemason had his own "signature," which made it easier for each one to account for the work completed in order to receive their payment. The Prison Similar to other prestigious European universities, the University of Coimbra for a long time had the privilege of governing itself and had its own legislation (Academic Forum). This privilege protected the academic community (professors, personnel and students) from living with common criminals. This was the case until 1834, when the privilege was revoked. After having been located in other places, the academic prison also operated here, more or less coinciding with what had formerly been the Royal Palace prison. What we see is a prison of medieval origin, the oldest one that has been preserved in Portugal. Two narrow cells and a winding staircase remain of the primitive structure. In 1782, following the university reforms carried out by the Marquis of Pombal, the space underwent several transformations: communal cells, a visiting room, a prayer room, and even latrines were added, all of which are visible from the more spacious room. More recently, the ground floor operated as a book deposit. This happened during the period following the extinction of the university colleges, most of which were located in the lower part of the city. In some cases, the libraries that served those colleges were transferred here and to the intermediate floor, remaining there for several years, waiting to be catalogued and placed in the upper floors of the library.    

Royal Palace

The building currently known as the Royal Palace was built at the end of the 10th century, serving as a fortress for the governor of the city during Islamic rule. In 1131, it became the first Portuguese royal household, the residence of Afonso Henriques, the first king of Portugal. In 1537, during the reign of King John III, the University was permanently relocated from Lisbon to Coimbra, having been established in this building in 1544. This building is divided into 3 spaces: The Armory This room is thus named because it was the first line of defence in the protection of the Princes, given their importance in the line of succession to the throne. Later, this space was also used to store the weapons of the old Academic Royal Guard. Today, they are used by the Archers (guards) during solemn academic ceremonies, such as the awarding of Honoris Causa doctoral degrees, the swearing in of the Rector and the solemn opening of the academic year. The Academic Royal Guard was the guard corps that ensured the security of the rector, the rector's house, the university buildings and the urban boundaries that fell within the jurisdiction of the University. The guards were originally known as Verdeais. After 1836, they became known as archers, even though they never used crossbows. They donned a kind of military uniform for daily use. Their current uniform dates back to the second half of the 20th century. The walls of the Yellow Room, adjacent to the Armory, are lined with yellow silk in honour of the Faculty of Medicine, because this is where the "Congregation of the Faculty of Medicine" would meet. This space was a meeting room where members of the Faculty would discuss a wide variety of issues. The other rooms, each with a different colour, represent the other faculties. The rooms are still used today for academic activities. The portraits of the University rectors who served in the 19th and 20th centuries can still be seen. The Great Hall of Acts This hall is the most important space at the University of Coimbra. It was the old Throne Room, and was the residence of the kings of the first Portuguese dynasty between 1143 and 1383. Important events in the history of portugal took place here, such as the proclamation of King John I in 1385.After the University opened in the Palace of Schools, this space became the main hall of the University of Coimbra, where the most important ceremonies of the academic life took place. The current design of this hall is the result of renovations carried out in the mid-17th century. The walls were lined with "carpet-like" tiles manufactured in Lisbon. The wooden ceiling was renovated with 172 panels that look like grotesque motifs (representing sea monsters, Indians, mermaids, plants). The walls are lined with the portraits of all of the Portuguese kings - from King Afonso Henriques to King Manuel II - with the exception of the Phillipine dynasty (from 1580 to 1640). The new monarch, King John IV, offered the Crown of Portugal to Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception in thanksgiving, proclaiming her the patroness of the Kingdom. This required the support of the lentes (lecturers) of Coimbra who, headed by the Rector, took a solemn oath to Our Lady in 1646, which was recorded on stone plaque in St. Michael's Chapel. Since then, Portuguese monarchs ceased to wear a crown. Private Examination Room During its existence as the royal palace, this space served as the king's quarters, but was later transformed into a venue where the graduates take their examinations. The examination consisted of an oral test taken at dusk. It was a private event, that is, only the student to be assessed and the professors could be in the room. This examination continued up until the second half of the 18th century, having been abolished during the reforms carried out by the Marquis of Pombal during the reign of King Joseph I. These reforms revolutionised education in Portugal, having a deep impact on the University of Coimbra, with the introduction of the ideas and values of the Enlightenment. The first great change was the expulsion of the Jesuits from the country. This was followed by the great reform to the University, which in particular saw the introduction of new areas of study such as Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Astronomy. To achieve this, the Marquis carried out a series of architectural works that transformed the University spaces: the Botanical Garden and Astronomical Observatory, which were built in the Palace of Schools, but were demolished during the 1950s. In addition to this, the buildings left empty by the Society of Jesus were renovated: the Chemistry Laboratory (former Jesuit dining hall) and the College of Jesus, the order's former province house, where the Physics Office and the Natural History Gallery were built. Today, these spaces make up the Science Museum of the University of Coimbra. The ceiling in this room dates back to 1701. One can see the coat of arms of the Kingdom of Portugal and representations of the former great Faculties at the University of Coimbra: Theology (Cross and Sun), Law (Scale and Sword), Medicine (Swan and the Staff of Hermes) and Canon Law (Papal Mitre). The walls of the room contain portraits of the 38 rectors from the 16th to the 18th centuries, together with the length of their terms: the caption records the number of days, months, and years that the rector headed the University. Today, the Rector's term of office is limited to a maximum of 8 years (two 4-year terms).  

Saint Michael's Chapel

The building of St. Michael's Chapel was probably built in the 12th century and served as the private oratory for the former Royal Palace. It is named after Archangel Michael, the protector of King Afonso Henriques (first king of Portugal). On the outside, the large portal dominates the façade. This naturalistic structure is flanked by two pillars covered in strong maritime symbolism. At the centre is the Portuguese Royal Crest, together with the Cross of Christ and the Armillary Sphere The current structure is the result of restoration to the Royal Palace, carried out during the 16th century on the orders of King Manuel. Inside the Chapel we find various decorative motifs with a distinctive religious theme. The current decor is the result of work carried out mainly in the 17th and 18th centuries. The highlights of this space, which is both sumptuous and harmonious, are the ceilings, the traditional tiled walls, the high altar, the Tabernacle and the organ. The large altar-piece, which covers the wall above the high altar with a large central throne, dates back to the 18th century and is decorated with golden gilt. To the left is a representation of Archangel Michael. In addition to the high altar, there are two other side altars; to the left is the altar of Our Lady of Light, the patronness of the academic community, and two smaller statues representing St. Joseph and St. Augustine; to the right is the altar of St. Catherine and the statues of Jesuits Ignatius of Loyola and Francis Borgia. Next to this altar is a statue of the Immaculate Conception, the patroness of the University and of Portugal.The white and blue patterned tiles lining the high altar were laid in 1613. The tiled walls, forming a kind of "carpet", that cover a large part of the chapel nave, were manufactured in Lisbon and laid in the mid-17th century. The ceiling above the high altar bears the insignia of the University of Coimbra, represented by a Christian figure and the emblems of the three major faculties, according to the old division of the university: Theology, Canon Law, Civil Law and Medicine; the ceiling of nave bears the royal coat of arms, surrounded by the three major archangels: St. Michael, St. Raphael, and St. Gabriel. The baroque Organ, dating back to 1737 and containing more than 2000 tubes, stands out in the decoration of Chapel. The organ is enclosed in a wooden box covered in gilded engravings and decorated with oriental motifs (chinoiserie). Comissioned by King John V, this organ was meant for a much larger church. This explains why it appears to be disproportionate to the space in which it finds itself.It is still used for concerts, masses and other religious ceremonies, and is in perfect working order. Above the Choir, set aside for the academic music group that plays during Sunday masses, is the royal tribune, the space with a privileged view of the Chapel where the royal family would attend ceremonies.