The Machado de Castro Museum occupies the former Bishop's Palace
Coimbra’s former Bishop’s Palace, built and expanded between the 12th and 18th centuries, was turned into one of Portugal’s most important national museums in 1913. It stands on the site of a Roman forum, whose 1st century cryptoporticus survives to this day. That subterranean gallery is part of the museum, and displays a few Roman sculptures around its vaulted passageways.
The cryptoporticus below the museum
The former palace features a Renaissance loggia overlooking the Old Cathedral, a Moorish-style portal, and a baroque church (the Church of São João de Almedina). It was all restored when then the museum celebrated its 100th anniversary, and the interior was modernized to better display a noteworthy collection of art spanning 2000 years. There are archaeological finds from around the region and the country, Portuguese and Flemish paintings, ceramics, jewelry, textiles, and sculptures from the 11th to the 16th centuries.
Roman sculpture in the cryptoporticus
An entire room was given to a set of terracotta sculptures representing the Last Supper, with thirteen life-size images of the Apostles. It was created in 1534 by Philippe Hodart, a French artist who worked in Spain (on the cathedral of Toledo) before moving to Portugal. It decorated the refectory of the Santa Cruz Monastery, and despite the damage that each sculpture suffered throughout the centuries, it’s a unique work of Renaissance art and one of the most impressive terracotta creations in Europe.
The Last Supper sculptures are among the highlights of the museum
Another highlight is a 16th-century sculpture of the Entombment of Christ, created by Jean de Rouen, a French sculptor known in Portugal as João de Ruão. The excellently-preserved piece features eight life-size images, including Christ, and once stood in the Santa Cruz Monastery.
Paintings in the museum
The museum is dedicated to Joaquim Machado de Castro, Portugal’s leading sculptor in the 18th century, who was born in Coimbra. It’s located down the hill from the university, next to the New Cathedral, and is also a good destination for a meal, as its cafeteria serves good-value lunches with a view.
The museum has a restaurant that's a good choice for lunch
Largo Dr. José Rodrigues
Admission and Tickets to the Machado de Castro Museum
Admission is €6. For just the cryptoporticus it’s €3.
It's closed on Mondays. On Tuesdays it only opens in the afternoon (2pm-6pm). On all other days it's open from 10am to 6pm.