Conímbriga is the most extensive Roman site so far discovered in Portugal…but its story is a chequered one.
Set on a plateau just 15 km (9 miles) south of the great university city of Coimbra, Conímbriga was once an Iron Age Celtic stronghold.
Rock paintings, dolmens, traces of primitive civilization fade before the vestiges of this ancient oppidum, which commanded the great Roman route across the Iberian peninsula.
The Suevi took Conímbriga by assault in 468 in spite of its extensively fortified walls and its admirably strategic position on a promontory at the junction of two rivers. It was razed to the ground and its population was systematically massacred or reduced to slavery. The ruins were buried under brambles and the dust of time and Conímbriga never rose again.
It somehow survived the departure of the legions and the Moorish invasions and became the seat of a bishopric until 883.
Excavations have revealed some of its hidden treasures in the form of precious mosaics, pillars, a spa and some of the walls, the remains of an entire Roman town with villas, tessellated pavements, baths and the Conímbriga aqueduct.
Many important exhibits are on show in the modern museum next to the site. With the help of one of the booklets on sale there, a walk through the ruins shows how the fortunes of Conímbriga rose and subsequently declined along with the Roman Empire itself.