The Queima das Fitas or Ribbon Burning Festival started at the end of the 19th century when law students decided to burn the ribbons that marked their folders. The fun lasts for eight days, this year from the 9th – 15th May and is amongst the biggest student celebrations in Europe. Organised by the students’ union, coloured ribbons representing the eight faculties in the university are burned to celebrate the end of the academic journey, meaning only students who have finished their degrees can burn their ribbons.
Although ribbon burning can be found in several Portuguese universities, including Lisbon and Porto, its popularity arose from the University of Coimbra, the oldest and for many centuries, the only university in Portugal. Its students were the ones who created this custom, and for many centuries, they were the only ones practising it.
The Ribbon Burning festivities are a big, free, public celebration for the students and townspeople as well. The festivities start with the traditional night time fado serenade in the square of the Old Cathedral of Coimbra. The square is packed with students in their black capes and according to the ritual, studies are forgotten for a week of joy and all-night revelry. The high point of the festivities is the parade, the Cortejo. The parade progresses down the hills towards the river with dozens of elaborately decorated floats, each in the colour of their respective faculties, carrying placards with ironic criticisms of the educational system, national events and political leaders. Here you will see thousands of "newly liberated" students wearing top hats and walking sticks and performing a show where they sing Fado songs – the ancient Portuguese melancholic music style – on the steps of the old cathedral of Coimbra.
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Published in: Guide to Portugal / Miscellaneous / Portuguese Life