Close to Conimbriga is the University town of Coimbra which is renowned as the 'Oxford of Portugal'. The university which sits on the top of a very steep hill in the middle of the town is the reason to stick around here.
All around the university is a tangle of small, cobbled lanes all leading inexorably up. Cars can and do drive through these lanes but only very small ones! We headed upwards calling in at the Old Cathedral on the way. The 'old' one was built in the late 12th century and is a bit of a chunky-looking building with its stonework disintegrating rather badly on the outside. But the inside, though simple has some rather interesting Mujedar Azelejos lining the walls. Incidentally the 'new' cathedral was built in 1598...
The old part of the university, started in the 16th century has some real treasures. We started with the Biblioteca Joanina, an 18th century wonder of rosewood and ebony tables, gilt Chinoiserie designs on black lacquer, elaborate ceiling frescoes and 300,000 ancient leather bound tomes on shelves fronted by small doors with wire fronts. Close inspection shows that glass might be better than open chicken wire - they are covered with dust and the leather in many is silverfish eaten and deteriorating. But the overall effect is extraordinary and this one easily rivals the library we visited in Dublin's Trinity College wherein is kept the Book of Kells. There was a no photo rule but I did sneak in a couple when the guard wasn't watching...
Other parts of the old buildings were also worth a look, though none were quite as good as the library. There were old examination rooms, an armoury room formerly the Bishop's rooms, an ols prison with cells, a chapel and the old cloisters where teaching rooms opened onto the loggias, these still in use for lectures. A precarious-looking ledge/balcony hanging off the side of the old building afforded a great panorama of the city and the river - fortunately this one was fenced in, unlike the town walls around Obidos...
Hving seen enough monasteries lately to last a while, we passed on the several that the town had to offer, bought some giant-sized Portuguese tarts and headed back to the van.