Located 16km southwest of Coimbra, the ancient Roman city of Conímbriga is renowned for its fine mosaics. It’s by far the most important Roman site in Portugal, whose excavated buildings nearly all belong to the latter days of the Roman Empire, from the second to the fifth century AD. Throughout this period Conímbriga was a major stopping point on the road from Olisipo (Lisbon) to Bracara Augusta (Braga). Although by no means the largest town in Roman Portugal, it has survived better than any other – principally because when attacked its inhabitants abandoned Conímbriga and never resettled it. That the city came to a violent end is clear from the powerful wall thrown up right through its heart, a wall erected so hurriedly and determinedly that it even cut houses in two. You’ll want to allow a good couple of hours to see the remains, and while there’s a café-restaurant at the site there are more facilities at the nearby small town of Condeixa-a-Nova.Read More
The site and museum
The site and museum
It is the wall at Conímbriga, with the Roman road leading up to and through it, that first strikes you. In the urgency of its construction anything that came to hand was used and a close inspection reveals pillars, inscribed plaques and bricks thrown in among the rough stonework. Nearby, a series of houses features exceptional mosaic floors, some covered to protect them from the elements. In the “House of Fountains” there are vivid hunting scenes showing animals in flight, while the villa’s original fountains and water ducts have been restored to working order (drop a coin into the machine to watch them play). Elsewhere, a complex arrangement of baths reveals their elaborate underfloor heating system – the city was supplied with water by an impressive aqueduct, large parts of which still stand.
Beyond the wall, recent work has been undertaken to re-create something of the spirit and scale of the city’s public areas. There’s the forum, built at the end of the first century AD, with its market place, shop entrances and nearby temple, while at the edge of the site, on a bluff above the steep valley – for many years Conímbriga’s main defence – a series of public baths enjoys a stupendous view.
The excellent Museu Monográfico de Conímbriga, opposite the site entrance, displays fascinating finds from the dig, presented thematically. Cabinets detail the minutiae of various trades (glass making, ironmongery, weaving, even house building) and aspects of daily life; the section on health and hygiene contains scalpels, needles and some quite alarming “probing spoons”. On the other side of the museum are displayed the larger spoils – statues of torsos, carved lintels, gargoyles from temples, monochromatic mosaics, remarkably bright mural fragments, and inscribed slabs, pillars and tombstones from the necropolis.