Coimbra, A City Shaped by Student Traditions

Smack right in the heart of Portugal is one of its oldest cities that now is ironically driven by its outstanding young student population. Coimbra, which has a long history traced back to the Roman times, has the ancient architecture to boast but more importantly, it is the collection of persisting student and cultural traditions that carves a real mark on the city. Housing the oldest university in Portugal and among the oldest in the world, Coimbra’s preserved student traditions are indeed unsurprisingly evident. And let’s face it, it’s Portugal so tradition is pretty much a big deal here.

This May for one is the celebration of Queima das Fitas, literally “burning of the ribbons”, which marks the end of their courses. It runs for an entire week beginning with the singing of traditional Coimbran fado (a traditional Portuguese style of music) by the Old Cathedral at night and ending with a parade of creatively (more often cheekily) designed colorful floats. The parade is packed with tourists as well due to the vibrancy and craziness of the street party that runs throughout the thoroughfares of the city. Not only that, the main beer companies of Portugal are also sponsoring the event so there’s just more than enough overflowing free beer to fuel all the wildness that is going on in the streets. Students are very emotional during this time of the year as they are set to embark on new journeys and separate ways, so expect a lot of emotional drunken students pouring all their passion and maybe frustrations to an entire day of merrymaking.

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Colorful festive floats during a Queima das Fitas parade in Coimbra with happy beer-drenched students celebrating the end of their university life.

The students also wear the traditional black robes which remind you of Hogwarts’ – only with hats and canes (instead of wands) bearing their traditional school color. This actually might have indirectly inspired the Hogwarts’ uniform as, like you often hear from the younger Portuguese, Rowling did spend some time in Portugal while she was conceptualizing the popular book series. Anyway, hearsay aside, it is believed that you would bequeath luck and blessing to the students if you hit their hats three times with the cane.

Truly, being one of the largest student parties in Europe, Queima das Fitas is worth the hype. Not only will you be entertained with the fun side of the festival but also, you will enjoy Coimbra in a different light. The usually quiet seemingly crumbling city, at least at this time of the year, is alive with the jovial vigor of student life.

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