Museu Nacional de Machado de Castro

The Portuguese city of Coimbra probably best known internationally as a centre of learning. Tourists tend to head for the acropolis-like structures including the former royal palace and university that overlook the city that nestles in the Mondego Valley. 

The Museu Nacional de Machado de Castro is a large national museum of art that was opened in 1913 within the former bishop’s palace on the plateau above the city. It was named after the Coimbra-born sculptor Joaquim Machado de Castro. However, the museum underwent a major renovation from 2004 to 2012 during which a new building was added.

The museum is placed on the cryptoportico (a kind of gallery-like vaulted sub-structure) that supported the forum of the Roman city of Aeminium. In fact, you can walk through the original Roman levels and work your way up. Aeminium was under the protection of the larger city of Conímbriga sixteen kilometres (9.9 miles) away, but was still impressive boasting an aqueduct and possibly an amphitheatre. The art collection within the museum begins with first-century carved busts and votive structures. Though the engineering of the cryptoportico is itself something of an artform. Sacked by the Sueves and Visigoths who left little in the way of art, the Roman Aeminium was abandoned but under the name of Colimbria later became the seat of the diocese of Conímbriga before falling to the Moors who established their own medina (city) in stone. The city passes back and forth between Christian and Muslim rulers until finally becoming a Christian city and a centre for further reconquests. Much of the subsequent art work is sculpture, painting, textiles, ceramic tiles and jewellery beginning in the fourteenth century and finishing in the eighteenth century.

Some museums can be intoxicating in content to the point where one piece begins to look much like another. In this museum, not only are there just the right examples from each artist and period, but there are also different viewing points allowing for new perspectives. Most of the museum is wheelchair friendly and Audio guides are available at a cost. A tour can take up to two hours depending on your interests, but there is a café and bar with a wonderful view over the city attached to the museum.

Museum Information:

Location: 3000-236 Coimbra, Portugal.

Telephone: 0102379059.

Admission: EUR6:00 for the museum and cryptoportico. 50% discount for seniors (65+), students, children (under 12) and families. 40% discount for disabled and carer.

Opening Hours: 10:00-18:00 Tuesday to Sunday. Closed Mondays, New Year’s Day, Easter Sunday, May 1st and December 25th.

Telephone: (+351) 239 853 070

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Clifford Pereira FRGS

Hailing from Mombasa, Kenya. Cliff's research interests began in 1982 when he first travelled Asia following the routes of the epic voyages of the Fifteenth century Chinese admiral Zheng He. He later graduated with a BA(Hons) in Geography with Asian Studies (Ulster University). After a career in tourism Cliff became a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG). He returned to historical research in 2001 on a variety of themes leading to an exhibition at the Royal Geographical Society on the Bombay Africans (2007) and is regarded as the world specialist on the subject. Cliff was Honorary Research Assistant to Royal Holloway's Geography Department (2011-2014) and Visiting Research Assistant to Dalian Maritime University, China (2011-2015). Cliff was researcher-curator on the Bait-Jelmood Museum, Qatar (2013-2016) and research-curator for the National Museum of Qatar, specialising in the Portuguese presence in the Indian Ocean (2016-2018). Cliff was Visiting Research Assistant at the University of Hong Kong (2016-2023). He completed a MA(Res) on the History of Africa and the African Diaspora (University of Chichester) with distinction in 2021. He is presently distance-working on the African collection of the Museum of Anthropology (MOA) at UBC Vancouver, Canada and continues to research and consult for a number of UK heritage institutions. He describes himself as a historical geographer and has been a speaker on various subjects in China, Malaysia, Canada, USA, South Africa, Italy, the UK and on the cruise liners Silversea and Swan Hellenic. He has numerous papers and chapters in publications around the world.