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  • Frances Schwabenland

Coimbra University and Harry Potter

It is said that J.K. Rowling's initial inspiration for Harry Potter's magical realm of Hogwarts is rooted in Portugal where she lived with her first husband. Rowling taught English in the town of Porto for several years and drew from the people, culture and colors all around her to flesh out her fictional masterpiece.

Coimbra is a town just south of Porto, dominated by one of the 10 oldest continuously operated universities in the world. It was established in 1290, relocated several times by demanding kings and finally established in Coimbra in 1537.

J.K. Rowlings could very possibly have created the attire for Hogwarts from the uniforms here at Coimbra. The Jesuits actually influenced this dress code requiring long black capes many years before the book release! Students now attach badges on the left front flap showing their memberships, accolades and achievements. There are 3 vertical tears on the bottom of the cape - made using only hands or teeth. One is made by friends when undergraduate work is completed. The second is made by family members on graduation and the back of the cape has a long tear if the student is "not available"...but if that relationship should unravel, (no pun intended) the slit is sown back up with bright thread.

The students also wear black blazers, white shirts, black tie, black pants or skirts and black shoes. This outfit may make Hogwarts more fascinating but I couldn't help wondering how the students wore all of this in 90 plus degree heat!

Later, I traveled to Evora and saw the students from Coimbra University dressed in these long black capes but now they surrounded students who were wearing blindfolds. As soon as I lifted my camera to photograph, they came at me letting me know they wanted nothing remembered about this moment. My driver told me they were doing a hazing of the new students and it is quite controversial after two students previously died at the beach during a hazing.

Apart from this tradition, there were other interesting things to make note of. I wasn't able to photograph what is considered to be one of the most incredible Baroque libraries in the world. The Biblioteca Joanina with its intricate gold leaf carvings and vast collection of some 56,000 volumes, many of which date back to the sixteenth century. There are 20 bats hiding out during the day behind the bookcases and at night, leather towels are laid out to cover the tables as the bats come out to take care of the insects which may damage the books. It is amazing what bats and temperature controlled settings can do to preserve books! I was however able to photograph on the ground floor which is serving as a book depository when libraries from other universities and colleges become extinct.

Before one enters under the columns leading to this vast campus, another tradition encourages all to take time and stand on this seal. Those who do this practice will be given much wisdom. (I stood here for as long as possible!)

As the student gets ready to depart Coimbra University, he or she must come to this room surrounded with these learned ancient men (no women!) looking down and professors surrounding the student listening intently as the final dissertation is given. I can only imagine the pressure from both the dead and the living while waiting for the "yeah" to graduate and proceed forward in life!

Coimbra University is a fascinating stop while visiting Portugal. One can be immersed in the past and the future, fiction and non-fiction and walk away much wiser!

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