A Nossa UC

The Building.

Antiga Escola Tipográfica, atualmente é Classificado como Património Mundial da UNESCO.

18 january, 2022≈ 2 min read

The profound reform carried out by the Marquis of Pombal at the University of Coimbra, which received new statutes in 1772, led to the remodelling and the building of new scientific and cultural spaces – such as the Royal Printing Shop of the University – in order to provide support to the different faculties and units.

The origins of the first university press go back to the 16th century, when King João III granted the charter to hire the first skilled printers for the Royal Shop of the University, on 21 March 1548. Later, other important academic presses were founded, such as the Royal College of Arts Press, run by the Jesuits, and the one at the Santa Cruz Monastery.

In order to respond to the educational needs and demands of the late 18th century, the Marquis of Pombal decided to incorporate the machines from the above-mentioned religious institutions into the university press.

On 11 October 1772, the king granted the Marquis of Pombal full powers to hand over the college of the Society of Jesus to the University, with the exception of the church and the southeast wing, which were ceded to the Chapter of the Cathedral of Coimbra.
With this transfer, the cathedral came under the jurisdiction of the Coimbra Holy House of Mercy (Santa Casa da Misericórdia), and the cloisters, now unoccupied, became the property of the University. Since this space was considered suitable for the installation of the new academic printing shop, on 17 October 1772 D. Francisco de Lemos purchased the land next to the cloister to properly install the shops there.

The architectural project for the new building, displaying the characteristic rigour and symmetry of the period’s neoclassicism, was designed by the military engineer William Elsden and his collaborators, Teodoro Marques Pereira da Silva and Inácio José Leão. After the conclusion of the works in October 1773, the first four publications were printed immediately in the following year.

On 9 January 1790, Queen Maria I granted the royal charter that allowed the creation of the first bylaws of the Royal Press of the University, also known as the Academic Printing Shop, which would become famous for the printing of hundreds of scientific and cultural treatises and dissertations.

After 162 years in operation, its extinction was mandated by the Decree-Law no. 24.440, of 29 August 1934, and its vast and ancient assets were integrated into the heritage of the National Press of Lisbon.

The building was completely abandoned until 1945, when it was occupied by the Coimbra Institute, a unit created in 1852 that was linked to the study of
moral and social sciences, physical and mathematical sciences, fine arts and arts. For that purpose, it underwent rehabilitation and remodelling works.

Fifty-four years later, the University Press was reactivated and installed in the building that it had previously occupied, at present shared with some units of the Law School.

Art and Architecture

The building of the Press occupied a wide area, still perceivable today, and was framed by the College of Santa Rita (south), Rua da Ilha, Chapter houses and private houses (west), the old cathedral (north) and Rua do Norte (east). The major works were concentrated in the cloisters’ area and in the two-
storey building with a small courtyard facing the street.

The main façade has a portal crowned by a simple triangular pediment, identical to the present external door of the cathedral’s cloisters, and it has five windows on each side on the ground floor, eleven windows on the second floor and twelve oval eye-windows on the top floor. The top of the building is decked with urns, the ones on the edges being larger than the rest.

The interior of the main building was altered several times according to the needs and functions of the services that they housed throughout the years, but a grand staircase still remains. This provided access to the upper floor of the cloisters, where the printing shops were located.

From the assets of the former press, owned at present by the University, there are multiple copper engravings, prints and plates, two presses, one stored at the Joanine Library and another at the Press National Museum in Oporto, and a vast amount of documentation at the Archive of the University of Coimbra.