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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.