If you'd have looked for the convent of Santa Clara a Velha in Coimbra fifty years ago, you might have glimpsed the tip of its roof poking through the mud on the banks of the River Mondego. Now, thanks to a lengthy and expensive restoration process, visitors can explore the interior of a building that once seemed destined to remain submerged.
Built during the thirteenth century on the bank of the river, the convent gradually began to suffer from the rising tide of the Mondego. The nuns who lived there moved to higher floors (and no doubt fashioned some early wellington boots ) until the situation finally became untenable in 1677, and they high-tailed it up the hill to the new convent of Santa Clara a Nova, leaving their former home to the mercy of nature. Whenever the river burst its banks, the convent would be almost totally submerged.
Despite this, it was classified as a national monument in 1930. However, nothing was done in the way of restoration until 1990, when work began to drain the site, restore the church and save it from any further damage. Millions of euros and lots of hard graft later, the church and what was left of the main cloister were liberated from their watery prison, and the church was slowly restored to the beautifully simple Romanesque building which stands on the site today. Visitors to the site can watch the restoration process captured on film: a truly extraordinary feat which has brought a monument back to light and back to life.