Conímbriga is one of the largest Roman settlements excavated in Portugal, and was classified as a National Monument in 1910. Located in the civil parish of Condeixa-a-Velha e Condeixa-a-Nova, in the municipality of Condeixa-a-Nova, it is situated 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) from the municipal seat and 16 kilometres (9.9 mi) from Coimbra (the Roman town of Aeminium).
Conímbriga is a walled urban settlement, encircled by a curtain of stone structures approximately 1,500 metres (4,900 ft) long. Entrance to the settlement is made from vaulted structures consisting of two doors (one on hinges), and at one time was defended by two towers. The walls are paralleled by two passages, channelled to excavations, in order to remove water infiltration from the walls. The urban settlement consists of various structures such as a forum, basilica and commercial shops, thermal spas, aqueducts, insulae, homes of various heights (including interior patios) and domus (such as the Casa dos Repuxos and Casa de Cantaber), in addition to paleo-Christian basilica.
A visitors’ centre (which includes restaurant/café and gift-shop) was constructed to display objects found by archaeologists during their excavations, including coins, surgical tools, utensils and ceramics.
Ruins of Conimbriga
The site of Conimbriga, which would have been inhabited since the Neolithic Age, has a safe human presence in the Chalcolithic and Bronze Age, epochs originating from the earliest testimonies that have come to us. It is true that the Celts have been here: the toponyms ending in “quarrel” are clear testimony of this presence. Conimbriga was therefore a castro when the Romans in 138 BC came here and seized the oppidum.
The whole of the Conimbriga Ruins, the Monographic Museum – built in its immediate vicinity – and the Alcabideque castellum consubstantiate an archaeological complex of weight, that allows to reconstitute an important cell of the great Roman Empire. Together with Mirobriga (Santiago do Cacém) and Tongobriga (Freixo, Marco de Canaveses), it forms the great triangle of Roman memory in Portugal.
The imposture and pragmatism of Roman architecture are well represented in Conimbriga, as well as the superiority of its civilizing action, which surpasses the most diverse details of daily life. Since, as the text in the epigraph elucidated, it had been inhabited since very early times, the foundation of Conimbriga and most of the buildings erected there dates back to the time of Emperor Augustus (1st century BC).
Beginning in 1928, the archaeological excavations were revealing a very significant part of the layout of this city, making it possible for the visitor to the Ruins to prove an urban planning that was laborious and attentive to all needs: the forum, the aqueduct, the commercial districts, industry and housing, an inn, several thermal baths, the amphitheater, the walls for circumscription and defense of the city. From this set stands a neighborhood of rich manor houses – which is diametrically opposed to the insulae of the plebs, due to the complexity of its construction and decorative refinement – which stands out “The House of the Repuxos”, large peristyle landscaped and paved with polychrome mosaics, preserved in situ, exhibiting mythological, geometric motifs, or simply representing the daily reality.
Conimbriga Monographic Museum
The Monographic Museum of Conimbriga (founded in 1962) exhibits a permanent collection that materializes the historical evolution of the place, between the end of the second millennium BC and the sixth century of the Christian era.
The first room is dedicated to the varied aspects of everyday life (glass, pottery, stonework, spinning, writing, games and pastimes, weights and measures) while the second room evokes the forum, through a model of what was the sanctuary of the imperial cult. The third room aims to demonstrate, through some sculptures, mosaics and fragments of stucco and frescoes, the exquisite ambiance in which the wealthiest families lived. Finally, in the fourth room you can find objects related to the religion (pagan and Christian), to the superstitions and to the cult of the dead practiced by the inhabitants of Conimbriga.
Casa Museu Fernando Namora
On June 30, 1990, the Fernando Namora House Museum was opened to the public, constituting itself immediately in one of the cultural points of interest in the county of Condeixa-a-Nova and making an irrefutable invitation to anyone who wants to know, with propriety, the life experience and the multifaceted artistic personality of this outstanding figure of Portuguese letters and arts.
The Museum House, in addition to a room that evokes the origins of the writer, displays a considerable collection of manuscripts, original notes, typographic proofs, books published and annotated for future editions, a private library of 4000 volumes and a whole personal objects (among them, medals, decorations and prizes, which attest to the recognition of his work).
There are also two nuclei of painting: one by Fernando Namora himself (one of his lesser known vocations) and one that includes works by various national and foreign authors, expressive testimony to the sensitivity and interest of Namora in this field.
Gallery Manuel Filipe
Inaugurated in 2007, in the building of the old Conde de Ferreira primary school, the Manuel Filipe Gallery pays homage to the outstanding artist, born in Condeixa in 1908.
Manuel Filipe, a contemporary – and compatriot – of Fernando Namora, was an outstanding painter of the human condition, having succeeded, as Jose- Augusto França, “in his amateur expressionism”, transposed to the canvas the misery and injustice to which man was condemned. From this slope he will speak, eloquently, the “Black Phase” of his painting.
In collaboration with the National Museum of Contemporary Art and the Center for Modern Art of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, the Gallery welcomed, at the beginning of 2015, an important exhibition on the “Black Phase (1943-1948)” by Manuel Filipe, integrating works never exhibited in the center region and that for over 40 years were not seen by the general public.
The work of Manuel Filipe is represented in eighteen museums of the country. In the Gallery, in permanent exhibition, a significant set of the work of this artist can be admired. The space also receives occasional temporary exhibitions.
The history of this settlement is traced back to the Copper Age and the Bronze Age, but there is a possibility that it existed before, in the Stone Age. Traces of the Bronze Age were found, more specifically from the ninth and eighth centuries BC, among the found objects we can enumerate several ceramics, a fibula and a scythe.
In the last century, the Phoenicians, people inhabiting what is now Lebanon, established several factories along the Mediterranean coast of the Iberian Peninsula. After stranding the Strait of Gibraltar they did the same on the Atlantic coast, one of them, in the area of Baixo Mondego between Montemor-o-Velho and Majorca, Castro de Santa Olaia, who traded with Conímbriga. In this market were sold-ivories, combs, crockery and glassware, later began to commercialize also Greek vases.
The first arrival of the Romans of which we have reference is of 138 BC, when the troops of Tenth Junius Brutus, in their campaign to subjugate the Galicians, passed through the lands of Conímbriga.
Pliny, in his census of the tribes of the West of the Peninsula, speaks, below the Vouga, already oppida “cities” and not populi “tribes.” This tells us that populations below Vouga were larger and possessed a different form of organization, would not have so many ties tribal lines but, of these we know of two: the Dovilonici and the Pintones.
It would be only in the time of Augustus that Conímbriga would be reformed, the Roman emperor sent architects to remodel it and adapt it to the Roman urbanismo. The forum was the first building to be erected by the Romans. Soon after, the baths of the city were created taking water of Alcabideque. The settlement of an artificial wall was complemented by the natural defensive position of the settlement, of two kilometers, the line of the wall gave another twenty-three hectares for the expansion of Conímbriga. Houses that are next to the wall, with tiles, are of the 2nd and 3rd century.
The Romans brought with them new elements of civil engineering: the marble, the column, the stucco, the mortar of lime and squared stone. This, combined with the arrival of new concepts and methods, accelerated the growth of the settlement and created an architectural syncretism between the old local tradition and the Roman tradition.
Conímbriga was swelling up more and more in the government of Vespasian became a municipality between 70 and 80. The result of this expansion of the city, between 77 and 78 a citizen of Conímbriga, M. Junius Lateran, was chosen as a priest of the imperial cult of Lusitania, this master would oblige him to live in Emerita Augusta, present Mérida, the capital of the province. It is probable that such designation was made as a precept to the settlement.
Subsequently, between the second and third centuries, the city entered an obscure period which did not reach us very much today. In the middle of the third century the Empire began to be invaded by barbarian tribes, in 262 they swept the Pyrenees and razed the peninsular Levante, they have not been known to reach the western Atlantic coast. In this climate of instability the defenses of Conímbriga were reinforced and the water system, including the aqueduct, as well.
Although the Empire was already being assaulted long ago the threats remained relatively far, perhaps due to the geographical position of the region, however, that calm from which it had enjoyed the settlement would finish soon, in 409 the vandals and the suevos attacked the Peninsula. In the region of Conímbriga, Lusitania, the Alans would be fixed. This was a very unstable period in which the barbarians made and broke agreements with the Roman government and there was an unfavorable economic situation in this climate of unrest, the most influential families of the cities took power in these and became their masters, in the case of Conímbriga everything seems to indicate that it was delivered to the family of the Cantabrian.
The settlement falls in 464 under the yoke of the Suevos, the woman and the offspring of the family head of the Cantabrians are kidnapped by these. The Swabians come back four years later, in 468, to raze the city and the region. The city will enter a period with little documentary information.
It is known that the city would not be abandoned this time (although it was already in decay), since in 561 it was capital of a bishopric, the prelate of the same one, Lucentius, took part in the First Council of Braga. It is also observed that he still had the same position, the same prelate signed in 572 the summary of the Second Council of Braga.
In 586, the region fell definitely under Visigothic rule, after a long time of fights between these and the suevos. In addition to pointing out the definitive defeat of the Suevi Kingdom and the political unification of the peninsular under the Visigothic power, Conímbriga was the end, the bishop and the bulk of his neighbors left and went to live in Emínio (present Coimbra), this last location much more fertile and with a better supply of essential water, which was beginning to be scarce by this time in Conímbriga.
It is known, however, that the settlement would continue to be inhabited, at least by some wealthy family, a coin minted in the reign of Rodrigo of the year 711, exactly the same year of the beginning of the Muslim invasion of Hispania. Some coins of the Muslim era were still found suggesting that it had not yet been totally abandoned, however, before 1086 it would have been definitely uninhabited. The few people still living in it would settle in the neighboring valley and would found Vila Cova, Vila Cova later Domna Countess Onega, who would become the current Condeixa-a-Velha.
The excavation site and visitors’ centre is located on the outskirts of the rural community of Condeixa-a-Nova, based on a plateau-shaped triangular spur over two deep depressions (one occupied by the Ribeira dos Mouros).
Although Conimbriga was not the largest Roman city in Portugal, it is the best preserved, with archaeologists estimating that only 10 percent of the city has been excavated.
It would be only in the time of Augustus that Conímbriga would be reformed, the Roman emperor sent architects to remodel it and adapt it to Roman urbanism.
The amphitheater of Conímbriga, formerly land reference, had an oval arena with more or 98 x 86 meters. To enter this enclosure, there were in total six tunnels, three on each side.
The forum was the first building to be erected by the Romans. It became the center of city life, since it was in it that the authorities and commerce were found. On the western side of the merchants, nine stores were allocated for the development of commercial activities. On the other side, from the source, was the curia and the basilica; the first was the place of debate between the two or four strongmen of the settlement, called magistrates; in the second, there was the court.
The new forum was erected as part of the celebration of the promotion of Conímbriga to the municipality. The old forum was demolished and it was replaced. This new would no longer be the stage of either justice or commerce. It was surrounded by high walls and exposed the statues of recognized men.
It is known that the new forum would remain standing until the fifth century when a colossal cistern was placed in one of its zones.
The entrance to the square was made by waving an arch, from there came to the temple and a fountain, we can infer that here was a place of worship; on the other side, from the west, given the very poor preservation, it is impossible to determine its use. The pillars were ornamented with fillets that divided them into half-reeds.
The square had a porch that surrounded it on three different sides. Further ahead was another portico, serving as an adit to the porch of the temple.
The temple of Conímbriga is in very bad state of conservation, of him already only few stones remain. The temple was so small that in it only the divine statues fit, there would be no room for religious offices. This building was connected to the square by a small side staircase.
The thermal baths also date from the time of Augustus. Since there was no spring in Conímbriga that could withstand the supply of water to the hot springs, it was decided to look for external sources of food. A well was found a little more than half a league long that could withstand the demand.
The building had at the entrance three divisions for the security and the garments. The thermal complex of Augusto is relatively small, but sufficient for the city that was growing. As was Roman rule in the baths, there were three pools; one of cold water, one warm of transition and one of warm water. Outside the baths themselves, the complex had a gym.
The houses in Conímbriga had a rectangular shape and were aligned, unlike the old settlements of the current regions of the central Beira (Beira alta, Beira littoral), Trás-os-Montes, Galicia and Minho.
Monograph of Conímbriga
The Monographic Museum of Conímbriga is the museum in charge of the public disclosure of the findings of the archaeological site of Conímbriga and is devoted entirely to it. It was created in 1962, parallel to the resumption of exploratory activity in the Ruins.
According to the Directorate General of Cultural Heritage (DGPC), the Monographic Museum of Conímbriga aims to:
its mission is to protect the Ruins, to promote their exposure to the public and to pursue archaeological research;
The Museum is run by Virgílio Hipólito Correia, a person who has been responsible for many of the archaeological works and studies done at the station.
In 2017 the Ministry of Culture reclassified the Monographic Museum of Conímbriga to National Museum. Regarding the ruling, the minister said:
It is of the most elementary justice to advance with this classification, in a museum that is an absolutely exemplary reference, a paradigm of the archaeological heritage but also of the scientific investigation in this domain in Portugal.
- Luís Filipe Castro Mendes
With this new classification the Museum will be able to enjoy community funds destined to the exploration and study of the Ruins of Conímbriga, all possible thanks to the Protocol signed with the DFPC in June 2015 and the collaboration between the Government and the City Council of Condeixa-a-Nova through the Infrastructure Development program of the Conímbriga Museological Program. Investments in valuation of traces total three million euros.
The ruins of Conímbriga are now classified as ZEP (Special Protection Area) by the Directorate General of Cultural Heritage. According to DGPC, the Special Area status Protection gives the site:
the landscape of the property and the perspective of its contemplation, covering the green spaces that are relevant to the defense of the respective context.
- Directorate General of Cultural Heritage
The current status of ZEP was granted by the Ordinance of November 12, 1971, published in DG, Series II, No. 277, of November 25, 1971. Although the status of Special Protection Zone confers on the site a reserved perimeter, the IC3 goes into this, not complying with the regulation.
This archaeological site was recognized in 1910 as National Monument through the Decree of June 16, 1910, DG, No. 136, June 23, 1910.
In 1930, following the XI International Congress of Archeology, the Portuguese State obtained some land in the archaeological station.
In 1962, during the investigation of the ruins, the Monographic Museum of Conímbriga was created as a vehicle for transmitting the new knowledge about the findings to the general population.