For many of the first 500 years of the Christian era, a Roman posted to Conimbriga in what is now Portugal would have felt right at home.
It was originally a Celtic settlement, but the Romans made it into a major city on the route from Lisbon to Braga. Trade was excellent and major villas were built in grand Roman style. But the town started to come under siege in the late 3rd century, and the people desperately threw up a defensive wall right through the town center. In 468, the Germanic Sueves finally conquered the city, and residents fled to Coimbra, nine miles away. By fleeing, they helped avoid the destruction of Conimbriga, and we can now see it as one of the best-preserved Roman sites on the Iberian Peninsula.
There are many mosaic floors with outstanding tile work still in place which make hardwood look like a very boring choice.
It’s odd to see the large stone wall cutting through the homes, but these folks were desperate. Their lovely Roman life, with extensive public baths, a forum and huge homes was just too attractive to northerners who knew the Empire was crumbling and could no longer defend its far-flung outposts.
One particularly lovely villa, cut in half by the wall, is called the House of the Fountains, which still features a garden and beautiful mosaics.
There is also a small museum which features finds from the site, along with a miniature replica of the forum, and additional mosaics, including the mythological Minotaur and his maze.
Even the vegetation reminds one of Italy. Lime trees and cypresses, along with an olive grove hark back to the Motherland.
We stepped out this evening for a taste of Fado, the Portuguese national musical form, born from the troubadour tradition. In Lisbon, women sing Fado about their men lost at sea. In Coimbra, male students serenade their loves, and sing of Coimbra. For an hour, we shared their passions.
Don’s Food Corner
Looking at Roman ruins put us in an Italian frame of mind. Happily, there was an Italian restaurant a block away from the hotel and, even better, it was open at 3PM, when nearly every restaurant is closed.
We shared a platter of three types of pasta: spaghetti with Bolognese sauce, tortellini with pesto, and penne with peas and ham in a cream sauce. We had an insalata mista to start. It was all delicious. And comfortingly familiar. We were already dug in before we remember to photograph it, it was that good.