Coimbra’s Queima das Fitas, The Burning of the Ribbons

Coimbra’s Queima das Fitas (Burning of the Ribbons), the oldest and most famous in the country, is organized by a students’ commission formed by members of the students’ union of the University of Coimbra, the Associação Académica de Coimbra. Celebrating the end of graduation courses, symbolized by the ritual burning of the ribbons representing each faculty, it takes place at the second semester (first weekend of May), being among the biggest student festivities in Europe. It lasts for 8 days, one for each Faculty: Letters, Law, Medicine, Sciences & Technology, Pharmacy, Economics, Psychology & Education Sciences and Sports Sciences & Physical Education. During this period, a series of concerts and performances are held, turning Coimbra in a lively and vibrant city.

Students Lore

Stories passed along over generations of students, the University folklore is plentiful. One student usually asked his father for money, stating “Rent 20, Food 30”. One day he asked “Rent 20, Food 30, Hammering 20, Fixing of the hammer and medication 40.” Another student had oral examinations at Law School. Unresponsive to the simplest of questions, the professor already impatient, turned to the bailiff and asked “Bring in a stack of hay” to which the student very quickly added “And I’ll have a glass of water please.”

The years of dictatorship were gruesome. Apart from the students that got 7 years in prison for toasting to freedom which led directly to the foundation of Amnesty International in 1961, in 1968 students would spend the whole night greasing streets and sidewalks with soap so the mounted police would have a hard time chasing them down to break a demonstration. It is said that a student dared a policeman to get his shoes and feet wet chasing after a cigarette lighter, thrown in the duck pond, while he had the license for it in his pocket. In those days one needed a permit to own a cigarette lighter, as imposed by Salazar to protect the matches industry.

Other items are plain local knowledge:

  • “Black it is, Chicken made it” (a pun on a children’s charade, “White it is, chicken hatched it”, to which the answer is “the egg”)—it happens that the gates of the Botanical Garden are black, and were made by a person named Chicken (Galinha).
  • Bet you can’t climb the Monumental Stairs, two steps at a time, as there are 125 steps in 5 installments of 25 steps each.

Freshmen on first day of classes may have rough stuff to go through. In the escalator of the Mathematics Department it is common to see them buying season tickets to take the ride all year round, and at least once, as urban myth has it, a poster announcing “Flight Insurance For This Elevator, At Sale in The Lobby”, was inquired about by the newcomers.

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