Coimbra's Old Cathedral

Coimbra - Coimbra

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The Old Cathedral of Coimbra is one of the most important Romanesque building in Portugal.
The monument’s construction started sometime after the Ourique Battle (1139) when D. Afonso Henrique declared himself as King of Portugal and chose Coimbra as the kingdom Capital.
In the Cathedral is sepulchred D. Sesnando, the Count of Coimbra.

The project of the Cathedral is attributed to Master Roberto, with possible French origin, that also was directing the construction works of the beautiful Lisboa’s Cathedral.
The construction works is attributed to Master Bernardo, also possibly French, substituted later by Master Soeiro, an architect that afterwards worked in other Oporto churches.

The Coimbra Old Cathedral is the only of the Protuguese Romanesque Cathedrals of the Reconquista period that survived relatively intact up until nowadays.

Seen from the outside, the Old Cathedral reminds of a small castle, with high walls crown with battlements and with few and narrow windows.
The fortress look is common to the cathedrals of that time and can be explained with the battle time that was taking place at that time.

The most notable aspect of the Romanesque decoration of the Old Cathedral is the large number of sculpted capitals (around 380), which make of the monument one of the main Romanesque sculpture nucleus in Portugal.
The main decorative motifs are vegetal and geometric interlacements and reveal Arab and pre-romanesque influences, but there are also pairs of quadrupeds (including centaurs) or birds facing each other. There are practically no human representations, and no Biblical scenes.
The absence of sculptured human figures may be because many of the artists that worked in the Cathedral were Mozarabic (Christians who lived in Arab territories, which had settled in Coimbra in the 12th century). These artists were perhaps not used to human representations, which are forbidden in Islam.

During the 19th century, and in the beginning of the 20th century, the building was submitted to big conservation and improvement works which aimed to give back the original medieval purity.

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