Portugal City Travel Guide: Conimbriga
Conimbriga (Ruínas de Conímbriga) is Portugal's most significant Roman site, about 15km south of the city of Coimbra, and close to the market town of Condeixa-a-Nova.
The settlement at Conimbriga was first inhabited from the end of the second millennium BC during the Bronze and Iron Age periods, through the Roman era when Portugal was the Roman province of Lusitania, until it was gradually abandoned in the time of the invasions of Visigoths and later Swabians.
Only around 20% of the total historical, urban area has been excavated but the remains give a fascinating insight in to the life and culture during the Roman occupation of Portugal.
The House of the Fountains
Walking along the remains of a Roman road that once ran from Olisipo (present-day Lisbon) to Braccara Augusta (Braga), the first place of major interest at Conimbriga is the spectacular House of Fountains, first discovered in 1939 and subsequently excavated over the following decades.
Protected from the elements on one side by a roof and wall, raised walkways give access to a huge aristocratic Roman residence complete with central garden and fountains and superb mosaics. The House of Fountains is believed to date from the Severan period (from 193-235) and the mosaics depict hunting scenes with dogs, Bacchus (Dionysus) as well as the heroic cycles of Perseus and the Gorgon.
The house was demolished to make way for a protective wall built during the later stages of the imperial period as the area came under attack from invading armies of Swabians.
The House of Cantabar
The remains of the "House of Cantabar" - which is believed to date from the Flavian era of 69-98 - reveal a grand, aristocratic residence with around 40 rooms. Reconstructed pillars of the peristyles (an open colonnade) reveal what was once the garden, the entrance and triclinium (formal dining room).
The Baths of the Aqueduct
The insula (apartment building) of the aqueduct was built on three floors with stone walls, lime mortar, tiled roofs and sophisticated sewage systems. Again the building had to be redeveloped with the building of the defensive wall but at one time it housed a large cold water pool (natatio), the main cold room (frigidarium) and small tepid (tepidarium) and warm (caldarium) rooms. A 3km-long aqueduct once brought water to these baths.
The Forum was the center of life in any Roman city. Rebuilt concrete columns of the monumental portico give some idea of the size of Conimbriga's forum which once housed a large temple dedicated to the imperial cult of Augustus and his successors. Surrounding the forum are the remains of shops and dwellings, some of which pre-date the Roman period.
The South Baths
The South baths were the largest baths in the city and date from the end of the first century. There is a large open cold bath leading to what were once covered cold, warm and hot rooms. A large palaestra or courtyard accessed by stairs once gave views over the surrounding countryside.
Conimbriga once had a large amphitheatre measuring about 60mx90m which was demolished to provide building materials for the defensive wall. Most of the remains of the amphitheatre are buried under the village of Condeixa-a-Velha.
As the security situation deteriorated in the later part of the Roman era, a huge defensive wall measuring 6m in height and 3m in width was built virtually cutting the city in two. The city's boundaries were shortened as the inhabitants withdrew to a smaller, more defensible area. Parts of this huge undertaking are visible on site.
The museum at Conimbriga makes for a fitting finale to a tour of the ruins. The museum contains a wealth of objects excavated from the site and is divided into four galleries showing objects from daily life, public architecture, domestic architecture and religion. The museum has a superb collection of Roman coins (around 10,000 were found on site), pottery, household objects, weapons, glass, statues, tombstones and jewelry (some of which seems remarkably modern in style).
Finally visitors can round off their visitor with tasty refreshments in the cafe/restaurant which has a balcony for alfresco dining. Souvenirs can be purchased in the museum shop.
If not coming by hire car there are buses to Conimbriga from Coimbra. Buses depart from the bus stop on the banks of the Mondego River near Coimbra Station at 9.30am and 12.30pm. Buses back to Coimbra from the car park at Conimbriga depart at 1.55pm and 6.25pm. The bus is not numbered so look out for Conimbriga or Condeixa on the front.
Tel: 351 239 941 177
Admission: Fee but free on Sundays.