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The city of Coimbra served as the capital of Portugal from 1139 to 1385, and was the birthplace of six monarchs from the portuguese 1st Dynasty. Noted for its cultural traditions and artistic treasures, Coimbra was long the intellectual capital of Portugal and remains one of its most picturesque cities. With its suburb of Santa Clara, the city spreads out along the two sides of the Mondego River. The older part of the city, with its narrow, crooked streets, is on a hill. Below it on all sides are the newer, more regularly patterned city districts.

The life of the city depends primarily on the University of Coimbra. As in medieval universities, the students wear long black capes and ribbons of varying colour to distinguish the various faculties. The institution was founded in 1290 and it is one of the oldest universities in Europe. Like an acropolis, the white buildings of the University now dominate the hilltop overlooking the north bank of the river.

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