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  • Writer's picture@ Cynthia Adina Kirkwood

Cindazunda Guards Coimbra 1,600 Years On

Princess Cindazunda, the work of Pedro Figueiredo, is at the Praça do Arnado on Avenida Fernão de Magalhães, in Coimbra, Portugal.


“Endless river” (Fernando Pessoa); “sweet and clear waters, sweet repose of my memory” (Luís de Camões); “deaf murmur of the river” (Miguel Torga), and “clear and pure water” (Francisco de Sá de Miranda), the Mondego is arguably the most lauded river in Portugal.


However, during the Migration Period of Europe, its waters were hardly clear and pure at Coimbra, where they were reddened with blood spilled by warring tribes. In the early 5th century, Princess Cindazunda saved the city from further destruction and the Mondego from more defilement.


Tribes from the north had migrated south to the Western Roman Empire. The Suebi, a group of Germanic tribes, and the Alans, an Iranian nomadic people of the North Caucasus, fought battle after battle over Coimbra. Legend says that Princess Cindazunda agreed to marry Ataces, leader of the Alans, at the behest of her father, Hermenerico, king of the Suebi. After the marriage, Coimbra became peaceful as the tribes began to live together.


“It is a striking feature of Coimbra: a meeting place for cultures, peoples, religions, welcomed over the centuries in a peaceful way,” said the then-Coimbra City Mayor, Manuel Machado, at the installation of Cindazunda’s sculpture in August 2017, according to the Câmara Municipal of Coimbra.


“Women in Coimbra have played notable roles, and one of them who has a relatively documented legend is Cindazunda," said Manuel Machado.


The sculpture of Cindazunda is located at the Praça do Arnado on Avenida Fernão de Magalhães. It is the work of figurative sculptor, Pedro Figueiredo (b.1974 Guarda), whose influences include Auguste Rodin, Constantin Brâncusi, Edgar Degas’ dancers, Henry Moore and, especially, Wilhelm Lehmbruck, according to New in Coimbra (November 20, 2022).


The Cindazunda sculpture showcases Pedro Figueiredo’s signature oversized hands and feet but, in this piece, only her hands because her lower body is encased in a skirt resembling an outsized inverted champagne coupé. Perhaps, the artist is conveying two aspects of Coimbra’s coat of arms: the woman representing Cindazunda and the cup symbolizing the wedding.


The city’s coat of arms has known different forms beginning in the 13th century, reported the Câmara Municipal of Coimbra. Finally, in 1930, Coimbra’s coat of arms was recognized formally in its current incarnation.


The meaning of the figures has been interpreted fancifully by several writers, including Francisco de Sá de Miranda (1481-1558); Gil Vicente (c.1465-c.1536); Inácio de Morais (c.1507-1580); Friar Heitor Pinto (1528-1584); Pedro de Mariz (c.1550-1615), and Friar Jorge Pinheiro (1500s-c.1635), according to the Câmara Municipal of Coimbra.

Of the many interpretations, the most popular is that of Friar Bernardo de Brito (1569-1617) in Lusitanian Monarchy, eight books of which the author wrote the first two. The Lusitanian Monarchy reflected the official Portuguese history of more than a century. It invokes biblical events as historical facts, starting with Noah, who it said God ordered to build an ark to save creation from a flood, and considering Tubal, his grandson, as the first settler of the Iberian Peninsula.


It was Bernardo de Brito who wrote of Princess Cindazunda’s rescue of Coimbra. The memory of the events are ensnared in the coat of arms: the female figure represents the princess; the cup symbolizes the wedding; the king personifies Ataces, and the dragon Hermenerico.


Today, Cindazunda stands guard on one of Coimbra’s main thoroughfares with huge hands and an even bigger heart.

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