Conimbriga is the best preserved Roman ruins in Portugal showing a variety of different ancient Roman housing. Conimbriga is a fantastic site and not to be missed if you're in central Portugal. It is a partially excavated site of Roman ruins that include houses, Roman baths, shops and lots of different examples of mosaic flooring - you can still see the different colours used!
It's only about 30 minutes drive from Coimbra so easy to fit into a morning or day trip. There's certainly enough to see to make a day of it.
Sixteen kilometres south of Coimbra is another must-see site - the incredibly well preserved archaeological ruins of a Roman city - Conimbriga. The site is choc full of the remains of ancient roman buildings, mosaic tiled floors, roman baths and underfloor heating systems. When you purchase your ticket you will get a leaflet guide to the site, available in English. You can also buy an English version of the official guidebook.
The site was first occupied in the Iron Age around the 9th century BC and the Romans didn't arrive until the 1st century AD having conquered the Celtic inhabitants. The city grew into an important town between Lisbon (Olisipo) and Braga (Bracara) with mansions continaing elaborate coloured mosaic floors and fountains. However in the 3rd century the Roman city came under siege from local barbarian tribes at which point they threw up a defensive wall right through the middle of the town centre abandoning the residential area. The wall can still be seen today as it is the most striking above ground structure still standing. The haste with which it was put up is evident in the various artefacts you can see that were entombed within the wall such as pillars, inscribed plaques and bricks. It did them no good though as the Swabian barbarian hordes overtook the city in 468 with the Conimbriga inhabitants fleeing to nearby Coimbra (Aeminius).
The ruins cove a huge area and apparently archaeologists reckon they've only excavated about ten percent of what's actually underground. You are led round a trail with multilingual notices interpreting what it is you're seeing in front of you. Some of the ruins are obvious like the beautiful mosaic floors with different patterns in white, black, reds and blues; the individual tiles are tiny and it's incredible to think some of the last people to walk on these were the Romans themselves. You can clearly see different rooms in houses, underfloor heating and public baths.
Under the rather modern red metal shelter is an area of mosaic floors and fountains that have been restored. The water ducts and fountains are the same as they would have been in Roman times. Don't miss the opportunity to see the fountains working; there's a slot machine where if you drop in a 50 cent coin the fountains will come on bringing the trickling of water to the experience - and surprising fellow visitors! Most of the excavations have concentrated around the wall through the middle and beyond it the excavations continue particularly the aqueduct which fed the city with water and the forum with its shops and temple.
Included in the price of your ticket is entry to the excellent museum in which a vast array of finds from the site is displayed. They illustrate the historic evolution of the site from daily life through to spiritual beliefs and ceremonies. You can see the terracotta lanterns that would have been filled with oil to light houses, farming tools, medical tools and even a cockerel very much like the Portuguese national emblem. Don't miss the phallic vases and talismans! There is also a scale model of the Forum to give you a better idea of what it would have looked like. There is a good 3D interpretation of the forum on the Panoramic Pictures of Conimbriga - weblink right.
Items are now labelled in English and this is a very clear and well presented display, good to visit either before you venture out to the ruins themselves or to add detail once you come back. There is also a gift and book shop in between the museum displays.
Attached to the Museum is a self-service restaurant with fabulous views over the gorge below that serves Roman and medieval recipes such as quail with grapes as well as more everyday fayre.
There are toilets on site opposite the ticket office, which together with the museum enclose a cobbled courtyard with orange trees dotted across it and a large pond shaded by trellises. This is a lovely place to sit and relax.
The ruins are open in the winter (Oct-May) daily from 10 am-6 pm. The museum is open Tues-Sun from 10 am-6 pm.
Summer opening (Jun-Sept) is daily 9 am-8 pm for the ruins and Tues-Sun 9 am-8 pm for the museum.
Buses leave Coimbra and run direct to Conimbriga at 9 am and 9.35 am at weekends, 9 am only during the week. The journey takes about 30 minutes. Return journeys leave Conimbriga at 1 pm and 5 pm at weekends, only 1 pm weekdays.
Buses also run to Condeixa which is the nearest town to the site, but it is a 2 kilometre walk uphill from here and it's not very well signposted.