Coimbra’s “Queima das Fitas”

Students graduating from Coimbra University celebrate in this week-long party
Students graduating from Coimbra University celebrate in this week-long party
29 April 2019, Marilia Poiares

May brings big celebrations and amongst them is the Queima das Fitas or Burning of the Ribbons in Coimbra. One of the more popular academic traditions in the country, it marks the end of university life for graduating seniors with a week-long series of events, parties and celebrations dedicated to the students.

If you are considering living in Coimbra or visiting it, or you already study there as an Erasmus student, this is a great opportunity to be a part of one of its biggest events, celebrated between the 5th and the 11th of May 2019.

Coimbra University is not the only school to organise these ribbon-burning festivities (Oporto’s and Lisbon’s are other examples of Queima das Fitas in the country), but Coimbra’s is the oldest and arguably the most famous in Portugal. The tradition started in 1901 in this historic city and, eventually, it made its way to other universities.

Organised by the Student Union, the Queima das Fitas in Coimbra usually takes place in May and consists of the main parade, a “blessing of the academic folders” ceremony, concerts with famous national and international musicians, sporting events and games, a formal gala, and an array of nighttime gatherings.

Queima das Fitas schedule

Everything kicks off with an emotional Serenata Monumental, a serenade to tug at the heart strings played and sang by students on the steps of the 12th-century Roman Sé Velha de Coimbra, the Old Cathedral of Coimbra. Be prepared to hear some of the most beautiful songs you will ever hear, as the Portuguese guitar plays, the vocalists sing fado and the graduating students cry, saying goodbye to their school years.

The other big event, celebrated on Sunday, is the Cortejo Académico, the student parade that begins with the burning of the ribbons, grelos, that represent the different academic programs: the Faculty of Law with red, the Faculty of Medicine with yellow, Humanities with dark blue, Sciences and Technology with light blue, Pharmacy with purple, Economics with red and white, Psychology and Education Sciences with orange, and Sports Sciences with brown.

After that, more than a hundred cars/floats start to descend from the school’s historic buildings in the Alta neighbourhood, towards Baixa and the Mondego River.

The floats are a sight to be seen: decorated with paper flowers in the corresponding faculty colours, and with political satires, they carry third- and fourth-year students that celebrate, sing, dance, wave the colourful ribbons that hang from their leather folders and give out food and drinks to anyone who passes by.

Throughout the parade, the students who go on foot create a walking beer war, where everyone gets drenched in cold Sagres and Super Bock Portuguese beers. Think summer water balloon war, but with beer!

While every student must wear the signature uniform that inspired J. K. Rowling to create Hogwarts’s famous capes, students who are graduating from their master’s degree are “cartolados”. They wear a blazer with a coloured lapel (again, the colour of their faculty), a ribbon, a top hat and a cane. If you want to wish them good luck in their professional future, you must hit them on the hat with their cane three times and give them three kisses on the cheek.

During the whole Academic Week, the party goes on until morning in the Queimódromo, an open-air venue, in the city’s Praça da Canção, which houses many tents, filled with bars and DJs, and stages that receive concerts from national and international music stars. At 6 a.m. the Balada da Despedida (Goodbye song), a famous song that talks about the student experience in Coimbra, sends everyone home, until the next day and so on and so on until the Queima das Fitas ends.

There is one more special event that is worth mentioning, that was celebrated up until 2018: the Garraida. On Thursday morning (the day before the week of celebrations ends), the students would leave the Queimódromo and head for the train station deck out in their uniforms, to catch the first train to Figueira da Foz.

There, they would roam the streets, sleep on the beach and chill until the afternoon, when they could take part in a small bullfighting challenge. Last year, however, this tradition was eliminated from the party program after students voted to end this event, associated with animal cruelty. Even so, the students still flock to the beach on this day. You can see the “crows”, as the locals call them, dressed in their black uniforms, trying to sleep their hangovers off on the beach.

Other Queima das Fitas events

Graduates have other events dedicated to them throughout the week, but these are more private functions and the general public cannot attend.

The first is the Baile de Gala das Faculdades, a proper senior prom complete with ball gowns, suits and a formal dinner. Every year, the ball has a theme that is illustrated by the décor and dinner menu. Around 1 a.m. the concert/party starts, and the master’s graduates have one very important task: destroying the Styrofoam decorations with their canes. Later, you can see them in the Queimódromo with Styrofoam pieces proudly hanging from their canes.

Last but not least, since Portugal is a mostly Catholic country, the Benção das Pastas (the blessing of the academic folders) takes place. In a private religious ceremony, hundreds of graduating students receive a blessing that provides good luck in their lives, now that their academic journey and their lives in Coimbra are ending.

Now that you know all this, we are sure you will want to visit Coimbra and witness this amazing celebration in all its glory!

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