The Romans founded a city at Conimbriga, though it was abruptly abandoned in favour of Coimbra’s more easily defended heights. The city grew and prospered under the Moors, though they were evicted definitively by Christians in the 12th century. The city became Portugal’s capital in 1145 but, just a century later, Afonso III decided he preferred Lisbon.
The Universidade de Coimbra, Portugal’s first university (and among the first in Europe), was actually founded in Lisbon by Dom Dinis in 1290 but settled here in 1537. It attracted a steady stream of teachers, artists and intellectuals from across Europe. The 16th century was a particularly heady time thanks to Nicolas Chanterène, Jean de Rouen (João de Ruão) and other French sculptors who helped create a school of sculpture here that influenced styles all over Portugal.
Today Coimbra’s university remains Portugal’s most prestigious. The city’s prosperity, however, has traditionally come from its three Ts: tanning, textiles (though Asian competition has textile firms on the skids) and tourism.