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A Café with History, a café with Memory…

    It was during the reign of D. Manuel I (1495-1521) that the revitalization of various spaces within the Monastery of Santa Cruz was initiated, as it was in an advanced state of degradation. In addition to improving and expanding the facilities, this intervention also involved the construction of a suitable burial place for the first two Kings of Portugal: D. Afonso Henriques and D. Sancho I.

    The Order of the Regular Canons of St. Augustine of Santa Cruz de Coimbra provided strong support to D. Afonso Henriques (1106 – 1185) in the conquest of territory from the Moors and in the independence of Portugal. D. Afonso Henriques chose his scribes and bishops for the kingdom’s dioceses from among the canons of the Monastery. The royal treasury was kept in the Monastery, as well as documents from the royal chancellery; the canons celebrated masses for the queen. The Monastery of Santa Cruz was the chosen place for the tomb of the king who entrusted it with the custody of the shield and lance, remaining so until the Battle of Alcácer Quibir (1578).

    After the visit to Coimbra in 1525 by King D. João III (1521-1557), the reform of the Monastery of Santa Cruz and the establishment of the University would profoundly alter the city.

    In 1527, Frei Brás de Braga was appointed Prior of the Monastery of Santa Cruz. By royal appointment, the Prior of Santa Cruz, “The King’s Chaplain,” managed a vast material and spiritual heritage that allowed the Monastery of Santa Cruz to consolidate and stand out in the country’s political-institutional, cultural, social, and religious context. The Monastery was a space for spiritual encounter, cultural reference, and meeting place for Catholics.

    Among other duties, Frei Brás de Braga was responsible for restructuring the conventual dependencies, modernizing and constructing buildings, and it is in this context that in 1530 Frei Brás de Braga ordered Diogo de Castilho to build the Church of St. John of Santa Cruz, which then became part of the Monastery from the southern side.

    Built to serve as a parish church, the building returned the Church of Santa Cruz to the full and exclusive use of the Regular Canons of St. Augustine, better known as the Crúzios.

    With the expulsion of religious orders in 1834, the Church of St. John of Santa Cruz was desacralized, and this space assumed various commercial functions: hardware and plumbing store, police station, funeral home, fire station, post office, housing. Since May 8, 1923, Café Santa Cruz has been located in the former Church of St. John of Santa Cruz.

    Talking about the history of Café Santa Cruz is also talking about the people who in the late 19th century and early 20th century imagined and conceived this space as a Café – Restaurant and a national reference.

    The main driving forces behind this project – Adriano Ferreira da Cunha, Adriano Viegas da Cunha Lucas, and Mário Pais – had the audacity to restore and preserve a monument that was completely degraded.

    After a tumultuous process of the facade project, initiated in 1921, designed by Jaime Inácio dos Santos, everything was resolved with the alteration of the facade to the one we know today. During this process, the building was classified as a National Monument on October 11, 1911.

    In the newspaper “O Despertar,” in 1921, the Café under construction was attributed various names such as the “Manuelino Café” or the “Sansão Café,” designations related to the typology and style of its construction, or its location. The Gazeta de Coimbra, in 1922, defined it as the “Ladies’ Café.”

    The rehabilitation process began with the discovery of what was inside this space because everything was covered (disguised) with a very light coat of lime on the vault, and with walls and floors, typical of a private residence that existed here. Everything was restored and uncovered, respecting the original layout. (Gazeta de Coimbra Newspaper – January and August 1921).

    The architecture and decoration of Café Santa Cruz reflect not only the economic, cultural, and social life of Coimbra but also the artistic currents of its time. The construction and restoration were entrusted to Augusto Monteiro and his son José. The stained glass windows on the facade were made by the Almeida brothers, from Cerâmica de Coimbra, and by Afonso Pessoa. The wrought iron chandeliers hanging from the ceiling were made by an artist from Coimbra – António Maria da Conceição.

    The Café-Restaurant Santa Cruz was inaugurated on May 8, 1923. The date was chosen because the Café is located in Praça 8 de Maio, the former Sansão Square until 1874.

    In recent decades, the Café has witnessed many historical moments in the country (economic, social, and political). In 1975, under the management of Alexandre da Silva Marques, overcoming the most turbulent period in social terms after the April 25, 1974, Revolution, the kitchen was closed for economic and financial reasons, focusing only on cafeteria service. He remained as manager until 2004.

    In 1985, the company Marques, Gonçalves & Pestana, Lda. was formed, with Alexandre Silva Marques, Arnaldo Gonçalves, and Marcelino Pestana as partners. This corporate structure remained until 1999 when Paulo Gonçalves acquired his father Arnaldo Gonçalves’ share.

    In 2001, profound maintenance and conservation works were carried out by architects Luísa Marques and Miguel Pedreiro.

    The rehabilitation intervention sought to highlight its architectural space, removing existing dissonant elements, allowing for a reading of the original architectural space – a Church space. It included the following intervention measures: enhancement of the architectural space, review of space functionality, renovation of floors, construction of a new counter, renovation of bathrooms, and renewal of the lighting system.

    The option was made to release the former chancel, which was closed off by a panel, making it serve as a stage for various events, while also recovering part of the original Church’s formal logic.

    In 2006, new people entered management. Alexandre da Silva Marques sold his share to Vítor de Sá Marques, and Marcelino Pestana sold his share to José Cruz and Nuno Miranda (who sold his participation in July 2021 to José Cruz).

    In recent years, this new generation has been striving to contribute through various initiatives, such as the launch of the Crúzios sweet on March 12, 2012, and the development of the program “A Café on the Way to the Centenary,” which takes place from May 2022 to May 2023. A set of initiatives has been planned within this program to showcase the long history of Café Santa Cruz.

    In June 2017, Café Santa Cruz was included in the Tourism Guide of the Central Region, published by Jornal de Notícias, where it deserves recognition as a historical (heritage) site to visit in the city of Coimbra.

    In addition to its daily cafeteria activities, Café Santa Cruz hosts and promotes events that are valuable contributions to the cultural offering of the city. These include book launches, themed gatherings, exhibitions (photography, painting, artistic installations), political debates, book presentations, urban craft shows, and musical performances (especially Jazz and Coimbra Fado). It is also a venue for recording series, films, or television commercials.

    Culture is an integral part of our menu.

    The brand “Café Santa Cruz” is a reference associated with the history of the city of Coimbra over the last 100 years. The accumulation of experiences from many decades, thousands of customers, is absorbed by spending some time sitting, drinking coffee, reading a newspaper, a book, or catching up with good company.

    The café is one of the most characteristic features of a place. The experienced and refined traveler arrives anywhere, enters the café, observes it, examines it, studies it, and gets to know the country he is in, its government, laws, customs, and religion. Take me blindfolded wherever you want, but only reveal it to me in the café, and I protest that in less than ten minutes, I can tell you the land I’m in, if it’s a place on earth.

    Almeida Garrett, Travels in My Homeland. Guerra e Paz Editores, (2017), page 56