The Ruins of Conímbriga

During our stay in Coimbra we made time to take a day trip out to the old Roman city of Conímbriga. The scenic, forty minute bus ride only costs about €2.50 per ticket, and it dropped us off right at the front gates of the ruins.

These are the most extensive Roman ruins I’ve seen outside of Rome, and they’re not half way done excavating the place.

fountainhousemosaic
One of many elaborate mosaic tiled floors on display throughout the ruins. This would have been someone’s bedroom. I am a huge fan of mosaics. Paint is still visible on the walls.  Photo by Tricia.

Conímbriga was originally founded by the Celts (“briga” is Celtic for “citadel”) prior to the 1st century. Once the Romans moved in it grew. A lot. Its location half way between Braga and Lisbon made it a good stopping point for travelers and brought great wealth to the city besides.

cropped-conimbriga
An artists reconstruction of what Conímbriga looked like at the peak of its wealth. Photo via.

Alas, as the Roman empire failed, so too did cities like this one. Successive incursions of Visigoths and Sueves (both Germanic tribes) forced the inhabitants to flee, but not before they cannibalized half the city’s buildings to erect a giant defensive wall.

earthviewconimbriga
Google Earth’s view of the ruins. You can see just how much there is left to excavate. The large rectangle where Google’s location pin is resting is the Roman Forum, which sits in front of the amphitheater in the picture above. The amphitheater was also sacrificed to build the wall. You may have to squint to see it in this image, but on the right you can see where the wall cut through the city. Go here for a bigger version.

The new wall worked for a while, but not long enough. Eventually the city was abandoned and the residents fled to Coimbra, which was much easier to defend. The Sueves were the last invaders to sweep through this city.

cantaberhouse
Ruins from the House of Cantaber. This home boasted forty rooms and two gardens. Photo by Tricia.
cantaberheating2
It was unclear from the signs whether this elaborate heating system was used for the House of Cantaber or for the baths. Photo by Ryan.
romanhouse
A home on the outside of the defensive wall. The main tiled floor you see here is the dining room. The shortened columns in the background surrounded a the garden-like area called a peristyle. Photo by Tricia.
swastikastiles
The home above is currently referred to as the “House of Swastikas,” because…yeah. For the Romans, the swastika was a symbol of the sun and brought good luck. (Jeezus, has this symbol been through the ringer). Photo by Tricia.

The grand finale of the whole complex has to be the House of Fountains. This is one of the homes that was sacrificed to the wall, but it’s also in remarkable shape.

fountainhouse
The Fountain House. To the left are various rooms, the central hallway formed an inner perimeter, and the peristyle fountain is seen on the right. Photo by Tricia

The mosaics are fantastic in this house, and on some of the walls you can still see traces of frescoes. It’s magnificent.

But the real treat is the fountain itself. Whoever built it took advantage of the natural slope in the landscape to help build up enough pressure for a working fountain. After excavation and some restorations…the fountain still works.

workingfountains
Drop a €0.20 cent coin into a box near the fountain and watch it flow. This made me stupidly happy. This house dates from around 200 AD. Photo by Tricia.

The only rough side to this day trip was the fact that the return bus arrived six hours after we got there. We had enough time to walk through the ruins twice, visit the museum, eat a nice meal at the cafe, and still have time to spare. If you take the bus, bring a book. Otherwise, hire a car.

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