Evidences Held in the Earth



At present, the archaeological collection in the Museum is limited. The majority of the pieces comes from the upper part of the city, areas corresponding to the places of most importance during the Roman period: the wall and the necropolis, the forum complex, a residential quarter at the top of the hill which is now occupied by the University square and another, recently discovered, quarter to the west of the forum which may have been the site of a public building. The pieces which originated from Conimbriga were returned in 1962 to be integrated into the newly created monographic museum.

At present, the archaeological collection in the Museum is limited. The majority of the pieces comes from the upper part of the city, areas corresponding to the places of most importance during the Roman period: the wall and the necropolis, the forum complex, a residential quarter at the top of the hill which is now occupied by the University square and another, recently discovered, quarter to the west of the forum which may have been the site of a public building. The pieces which originated from Conimbriga were returned in 1962 to be integrated into the newly created monographic museum.
The collection was founded in 1873 with objects from the Instituto de Coimbra comprising «stone, bronze, iron and pottery.»
The pre-historic items – flint blades, stone axes and three axes of bronze – resulted from superficial prospecting carried out by António da Costa Simões and Augusto Filippe Simões, in the districts of Coimbra and Évora.
In 1774 Roman funerary inscriptions were found adjacent to the medieval castle, demolished during the Pombaline Reform in order to build an astronomy observatory.
The imperial head crowned with laurels, discovered in 1844 in the town of Bobadela, was given to the Instituto in 1875. In the same year it also received an unusual sculpture of a monkey found in a sepulchre of «white marble» near Estremoz.
It was, however, the excavations that this Institute had carried out in Conimbriga since 1899 that contributed the largest quantity and variety of objects to this collection, including the mosaics, which were lifted and immediately transferred to the Instituto.
Some important pieces from the Swabian-Visigothic and Arab eras were also found, the most notable being a fine caliphal capital (p. 53) from Montemor-o-Velho held in the Museu Machado de Castro.
Following the founding of the Museum other archaeological finds from various sources were to enrich the collection. However, it was the city of Coimbra itself that contributed the most valuable, as a result of demolition work carried out in the 1940s to enable the laying of the foundations for the new Faculties of the University, and also, as an outcome of the excavations of the cryptoportico. Vergílio Correia began the digging of the cryptoportico in 1930, but between 1955 and 1962 the project suddenly grew in momentum as the dgemn, under the scientific direction of João M. Barrão Oleiro, made the decision to empty and consolidate all of the galleries on the upper level. Among the many thousands of pottery sherds dating from the Early Roman Empire to the early 17th century, a few architectural fragments and four very interesting imperial heads were unearthed. They are of particular significance to the history of the city and the forum itself, equally for their artistic quality and the chronological evidence they revealed.
Jorge Alarcão and Pedro Carvalho led further archaeological excavations in 1989–1990 and 1992–1997 respectively which helped to uncover, and better understand, the lower level of the cryptoportico and define the relationship between the upper level and the buildings which overlaid it, namely, the basilica.
The evidence gathered suggests that the forum complex was built in the middle of the 1st century. It also confirms that after the Swabian invasion the complex gradually fell into abandon. However, the lower level of the cryptoportico was partially in use as late as the 19th century, via a direct entrance at the southwest corner.
The complete blocking-in of this podium to rehabilitate the Episcopal Palace and to construct the Terzi gallery was also explained, confirming it to date from the 16th to 17th centuries.