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Torre de Belem - Tower of Belem.
The symbol of Lisbon, but at 6 km from the centre, is the most photographed monument of the city.
This imposing tower and bastion defending the entrance to the Tagus and combining firepower with the St Sebastian tower on the other bank of the river was constructed between 1515 and 1521 by military architect Francisco de Arruda. The tower was built on a basalt island but is now nearly swallowed up by the river bank.
The tower shows two parts, the bastion with the canons, and the five-story tower.
What surprises for this military construction is the large amount of decoration.
There are some Moorish decorative elements but the typical Manueline motifs like the armillary sphere (a spherical astrolabe) the cross of the Order of Christ (of which king Manuel I was a member), twisted ropes, and other features typical of the Manueline style, also found on the nearby Monastery of the Jerónimos, dominate.
Famous among these decorations is a rhinoceros, the first stone statue of the animal in Europe.
Because of all these decorations, arched windows and balconies, the Tower of Belem has been compared to the bow of a caravel.
We did not visit the inside, we read that the visit was not so interesting.
Open :October to April from 10.00 to 17.30 h
May to September from10.00 to 18.30 h
Closed: Mondays and January 1st, Easter Sunday, May 1 and December 25
Price (2012): 5 €, reduced 2,50 €
- Castles and Palaces
- Historical Travel
Monument to the Discoveries.
Padrão dos Descobrimentos.
This about 50 m high monument celebrates, as said by its name, the Portuguese who took part in some way to the age of discoveries. It was built in 1960 for the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the death of Henry the Navigator and is located in the quite agreeable Belém surroundings of the gardens between the monastery and the river. The monument is typical of some romantic idealisation of the Portuguese history under Salazar.
The head figure holding a ship in hands is Prince Henri the Navigator.
I had always much admiration and sympathy for Infante Dom Henrique who was the initiator and promoter of many discoveries but never navigated by himself.
It is thought that Henry started the Portuguese school of cartography.
Behind him are represented 30 personalities of which best known are the great navigators and discoverers: Vasco da Gama who discovered the sea route to India, Bartholomeu Dias who proved that Africa could be circumnavigated when he reached the Cape of Good Hope and Ferdinand Magellan first to circumnavigate the globe passing from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean by the Strait he discovered immediately south of mainland Chile.
There was an irreverencious joke about this monument: "don't push in the queue!"
Open: all days 10 - 19 h May to September
From Tuesday to Sunday 10 - 18 h October to April
Price (2012): 3 €; 2 € for 12 - 18 yr, students & seniors.
Free: 12 yr.
- Historical Travel
Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (Hieronimite Monastery)
One of Lisbon’s ex-libris, declared a World Heritage site by the UNESCO, the Mosteiro de Santa Maria de Belém was built in the 16th century to lodge the monks of St. Jerome’s Order (Hieronymites).
Begun in 1501, this jewel of Portuguese late Gothic, known as Manueline style took almost a century to be completed, and as a result, its architectural and decorative elements span Gothic, Renaissance and Noeclassic forms. Moreover, the cloisters are decorated with naturalistic motifs, and the Church’s top is considered Mannerist. Commissioned, first by king Manuel I, and later by its successors, the monastery affirmed the political and expansionist power of Portugal at the time, being close to tidal beach where Vasco da Gama’s ships made their triumphant return from India. Actually, a former small hospice chapel standing on the site of the current monastery was used as a place to pray before the journeys of discovery and after the safe return from far off lands (just a small note: this is one of the few places where the sailors came to pray not to Our Lady of Seafarer but to another divinity - Our Lady of Bethlehem, in this case).
Financing came from the immense wealth derived from trading the spices from the Indies (what is now India, and Indonesian archipelago), while the gold later flowing from Brazil and Mozambique ended plastered over side chapels and the altar. Nevertheless, the enormous amount of funds needed for this monastery in such small country as Portugal, meant abandoning the construction of the Aviz pantheon in the Monastery of Batalha (see link).
A breathtaking structure confronts you once you enter the monastery. The two-story cloister have groined vaulting on their ground level in what we designate as Manueline style -a sumptuous Portuguese style of architectural ornamentation incorporating flamboyant Gothic and Moorish influences with elements of the nascent Renaissance and maritime elements and representations of the Discoveries, characteristically dated from the first decades of the 16th C. This is a masterpiece by the french architect Diogo de Boitaca, with arches and slender columns delicately carved. Besides the lower part of the cloisters Boitaca built the lower part of church, the monastery, the sacristy, and the refectory. He was most probably one of the originators of this style with the Igreja de Jesus (Church of Jesus) in Setúbal.
Upon Boitaca’s death in 1517, the spaniard Juan de Castilla undertook the upper story of the cloister, finishing in 1554. The recessed upper floor is not as exuberant but is more delicate and lacelike in character. Actually Juan de Castilla had a slightly different style, known as plateresque, from plata=silver, with lavish decorations that remind of silver ware, and besides the cloisters completion made the beautiful south portal, where you can scrutinize brilliantly rendered sculptures. They are surmounted by a cross of the Knights of Christ (a generic Portuguese emblem suggested by the Aviz dynasty after the Templar Knights were suppressed) and a statue of Prince Henry the Navigator, Knights of Christ Grand Master, and Manuel’s great-uncle -the man responsible for Portugal’s overseas ambitions. The west portal is also outstanding, but this one was the work of the french Nicolas de Chanterenne, and it is a good example of the transition from the Gothic style to Renaissance. It is now spanned by a vestibule, added in the 19th C., that forms a transition between the church and the ambulatory. The tympanum depicts two angels, holdings the arms of Portugal, and the Annunciation, the Nativity, and the Epiphany (after all this is the church of Our Lady of Bethlehem).
After 2 other architects and the union of Spain and Portugal in 1580, the constructions’ stopped (mostly because the building of the Escorial in Spain was now draining away all the funds). Nonetheless, the masterpiece was almost finished by that time. The church is known for its deeply carved stonework depicting such scenes as the life of St. Jerome. Its interior is rich in beautiful stonework, particularly evocative in its network vaulting over the nave and aisles. In the vaulted ceilings a perfect balance between simplicity and detail is typified by carved rope snaking along the slender columns. This is a “great photo” for sure, especially if you enter the church right after the Sunday’s service, approx. 12am, and the lights are still on.
It is worth noting that, although statues tumbled from niches and columns, the monastery structure was one of the few important buildings in Lisbon area to survive 1755 earthquake, mostly due to its intelligently conceived vaults (although most people invoke a miracle) . But when the building became vacant in 1833 by the abolition of the religious orders in Portugal, it began to deteriorate to the point of almost collapsing.
Two of most important heroes of the time are entombed at the entrance of the church, beneath the choir gallery in magnificent Neomanueline style (19th C.): Vasco da Gama, the India’s sea route discoverer, and Luís Vaz de Camões, the author of the epic Os Lusíadas (The Lusiads), in which he glorified the triumphs of his compatriots. Camões's epic poetry is said to have inspired a young Portuguese king, Sebastião, to dreams of glory. The foolish king -devoutly, even fanatically, religious- was killed at Alcácer-Kibir, Morocco, in a 1578 crusade against the Muslims. Those refusing to believe that the king was dead formed a cult known as Sebastianism; it rose to minor influence, and four men tried to assert their claim to the Portuguese throne. Each maintained steadfastly, even to death, that “he was King Sebastião”. Sebastião's remains were reputedly entombed (by Philip II of Spain who meanwhile took the head of state in Portugal) in a 16th C. marble shrine built in the Mannerist style.
Also entombed in the building we can find poet Fernando Pessoa (a minimalist tomb in the cloister), playwright Almeida Garret, historian Alexandre Herculano, and presidents Teófilo Braga and Óscar Carmona (in the chapter house). On the chapel, we can find the royal tombs, held up by marble elephants (further evidence of Portugal’s far-reaching explorations) and an immense silver tabernacle. Besides the art and architecture of the building all these tombs make the monastery an illustrious resting place.
Along with the colorful 18th C. azulejos depicting the life of St. Joseph in the refectory, do not miss the staircase that takes you up to the choir overlooking the church.
Outside, be sure to scan the walls for esoteric symbols carved into the stones; these are the signatures of the stonemasons who worked on the construction of the monastery (something you can observe also in Europe’s major constructions, e.g. cathedrals).
Two other beautiful artistic pieces belonged once to the monastery and are now on display somewhere else –the Belém Monstrance on display at the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, and the Manuel I Bible (see also here, both in portuguese).
The 19th C. “modern” wing of the monastery now lodges the National Museum of Archaeology and part of the Maritime Museum, and both deserve your visit.
Opening hours: Tues-Sun 10am-5pm (Oct-Apr); Tues-Sun 10am-6:30pm (May-Sep), closed Mon. Admission charge.
The site is easily reached by train, city buses or alighting at the Belém stop of the number 15 tram route from central Lisbon.
- Arts and Culture
- Historical Travel
Understanding the site
If you have, at least, one day in Lisbon, Belem is one of the things you shouldn't miss. You may build your own program, from a couple of hours till one or more days.
Supposing that you will have only half day, then you can only have a glimpse of the ensemble of the Praça do Imperio, visit the Tower and Jeronimos. The area is still keeping the look won in 1940, when the political regime tried to make an impressive exhibition to hide the colonial nature of our possessions in Africa and Asia, spreading the idea of a multiracial, multicultural, and universal country.
The gardens and some buildings were kept. For instance, the Popular Art Museum (Museu de Arte Popular) and the restaurant in the artificial lake (Espelho de Agua) were part of the exhibition. But the real gems of Belem come from history, with Jeronimos and the Tower on top.
- Historical Travel
- Arts and Culture
Belém - a day (or two) well spent
Belém lies on the bank of Tejo river on the western edge of Lisbon and is a cluster of major monuments (both ancient and modern), cultural institutions, and green spaces. Moreover, plays an important official role in the form of the presidential residence, the Palácio de Belém.
The name "Belém" is a typically Portuguese shortening of "Bethlehem". The origins of Belém's importance lie in the earlier harbor of Restelo (a name we still use indistinguishably with Belém). The harbor served as the departure point for the voyages of discovery undertaken by Portuguese sailors during the “Discoveries” times. A former small hospice chapel standing on the site of the current monastery, Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, was used as a place to pray before the Christian journeys of discovery and conquest. They also returned here after their voyages with their booty from far off lands. The fortress-like Torre de Belém, a more secular symbol, stands at the place where the mouth of the Tagus opens to the Atlantic (although officially the river ends at the Bugio fortress, some 10km west.
Both the monastery and the old tower of Belém were commissioned by King Manuel "the Happy", during whose reign Vasco da Gama discovered the sea route to India and Pedro Álvares Cabral journeyed to Brazil. During this time many members of the nobility as well as prosperous business people moved to Belém.
The direct combination of political and religious interests in large-scale ocean navigation is clearly recognizable in Belém.
This Lisbon district, which was an independent village until 1885, suffered very little from the effects of the earthquake of 1755; thus its historic buildings are amongst the oldest in the Portuguese capital. Actually its historically important buildings document the most important epoch of Portuguese history.
As it was mentioned the magnificent Jerónimos Monastery and the emblematic riverside Belém Tower top the list of amazing sights. In between stand the modern Belém Cultural Center, which houses the Design Museum and the Berardo Collection and is a major cultural point of the city with events all year round. On the hill above, the more ornate forms of the former Royal Palace of Ajuda (the last permanent residence of the royal family before a military coup overthrew the monarchy in 1910). Between them, several museums cover archaeology, ethnology, maritime history, folk art, and coaches and carriages. Besides the green spaces of the Praça do Império (between the monastery and the river bank), the gardens of the Palácio de Belém are very beautiful, but you will only be allowed to visit once a year –when we celebrate the Implementation of the Republic on October 5th. Nevertheless, the neighbor Jardim Tropical, which houses some of the nicest specimens of tropical trees and bushes in Portugal, is a must see –this is a place where I like to return often as it is quiet and charming, with african statuettes, oriental pavilion and little garden, palm trees, araucaria, tea plants, and a lake with ducks.
After the devastating damage caused by the earthquake in Lisbon had temporarily paralyzed the life of the city, brief thought was given to beginning reconstruction not in present day Baixa but to creating a new city center in Belém. On the 20th C. during the time of the Estado Novo under the dictator Salazar, Belém was given the role of reviving the resurgence of awareness of Portuguese history and the former greatness of the nation. On the occasion of the 300th anniversary of independence from Spain (December 1, 1640) a pompous "Exhibition of the Portuguese World" was staged on the land between the Jerónimos monastery and the bank of the river. The area was laid out in a completely new way, with the construction of the Praça do Império (we had an “empire” at that time) with architectural direction assumed by Cottinelli Telmo, whose work also includes the glorified Padrão dos Descobrimentos (a memorial to the Discoverers).
Nowadays Belém is far from being a mere tourist destination. It is the wealthy district of Lisbon and the most expensive place to buy a house out of downtown areas (Chiado and Avenida da Liberdade). In this context it is not extraordinary that the place houses most part of the embassies and consular offices in the city.
But Lisbonners always had a good relationship with his river and enjoy coming to the banks of Tejo to profiting the warm winter’s afternoons and its freshness during the summer hot days. That’s the reason why all year round hordes of people descend to this spot on weekends and public holidays, partly for the scenic riverside and garden’s area but equally for the Lisbon’s most popular pastry shop.
- Arts and Culture
- Historical Travel
Torre de Belém (Belém Tower)
Built between 1515 and 1521 by order of king Manuel I this work of brothers Francisco and Diogo de Arruda originally stood on a midstream island; however, the 1755 earthquake also affected the course of the river, so the fort is now attached to the riverbank on or near the spot where the caravels once set out across the sea. This classic landmark of Portugal manages to look entirely harmonious and often serves as a symbol of the country. A masterpiece of the Portuguese late Gothic, known as Manueline style, the tower also incorporates Moorish style watchtowers and Venetian loggias with openwork tracery.
Financed with the immense wealth derived from trading the spices from the Indies (what is now India, and Indonesian archipelago), the Tower was built in homage to the patron Saint of Lisbon -São Vicente-, in the place where was once anchored the Grande Nau (Great Vessel) that combined firepower with the São Sebastião tower on the other bank of the river. A symbol of the military and marine power of Portugal, the monument was built as a control tower to stand guard over the harbor of Lisbon, protecting the town against English and Dutch pirates, and to serve as a lighthouse. After the first and “natural” viewpoint of the town -S. Jorge castle-, this was the first control tower built closer to the mouth of the river, and it is worth noticing that today’s control tower for navigation on the river (Lisbon Port administration) is placed 500m west of this place.
Belém Tower was the last thing that the seafaring adventurers saw before setting off on their epic adventures and is the most beautiful of the defensive fortresses around the coastline in Lisbon area but if you are interested in such buildings you have many to see and visit. The largest and most important is São Julião da Barra fortresses and the other “oddity” is Bugio fortress, a landmark of the area which you can spot from the air if you land from that side of the town (ask for a window seat), and definitely you will see it if you travel by car or train between Lisbon and Oeiras or Cascais.
The square stone tower looks somewhat like an enormous raft and is richly decorated and sculptured with pinnacles, small columns, ropes, marine cords, armillary spheres, and the unique shield-shaped battlements decorated with an immense number of crosses of the Order of Christ (some say representing the Portuguese crusaders). The coat of arms of Manuel I rests above the loggia. The tower with several floors has an arched loggia and a terrace on the façade. In a niche, set under the baldachin, is a statue of Our Lady of the Seafarer (or Sailors) with the Child and a bunch of grapes (Nossa Senhora do Bom Sucesso) facing the river. On the first floor are the Royal Hall and the Governor’s Room, while on the second floor there is a chapel with decorated ceiling. If you scale the steps leading to the top of the crenellated tower, you'll be rewarded with a panorama of boats along the Tagus, the open of the Ocean, Cabo Espichel (Espichel Cape) and Cascais bay.
Under Spanish domination (1580-1640) the tower served as a prison. Later in 1810 the tower was considerably damaged by the Napoleonic troops and only was restored for the pompous "Exhibition of the Portuguese World" in 1940. Classified as World Heritage by UNESCO in 1983, the Belém Tower stands as the crown jewel of Manueline architecture with his oriental and Islamic elements. The most highly decorated side of the Tower is south facing, with its narrow balcony.
Some people say that the Tower is more attractive from the outside than from the inside, and I must confess I truly agree. So if you are short of time better to take extra time on the monuments and museums closer to Jerónimos Monastery.
Facing the Tower of Belém is a monument commemorating the first Portuguese to cross the Atlantic by airplane (not nonstop), the original can be found at the Maritime museum. The date was March 30, 1922, and the flight of the Santa Cruz (Holy Cross) took the pilot Gago Coutinho and the navigator Sacadura Cabral from Belém (a homage to the navigators) to Rio de Janeiro.
Opening hours: Tues-Sun 10am-5pm (Oct-Apr); Tues-Sun 10am-6:30pm (May-Sep), closed Mon.
Admission 3€ adults, 1.50€ for young adults 15-25 years, free for children under 14 and for seniors (65 and over), Sun free until 2pm.
The site can be reached by train, and city buses / tram to Belém stop and then 10 min walking by the riverside.
- Castles and Palaces
- Museum Visits
Jeronimos is a wonderful monastery, build in the 16th century, to celebrate the discoveries and to be the king Manuel I’s burial monument.
It took all the century to be built, and houses the tombs of the king and his sons. It is one of the best examples of Manueline architecture (the other "super" examples are Batalha and Tomar, with the famous window), a Portuguese style in transition between gothic and renaissance, making use of nautical decorations, and that took the king’s name. The church and mainly the cloisters are splendorous.
In the main corps you can also see the tombs of Vasco da Gama and Camões, transferred there about 50 years ago.
- Historical Travel
Belém - just a few minutes away from the center
Belém (at least the area with the tourist attractions) is located by the river heading West from central Lisbon, on the way to Estoril/Cascais.
There are many things to see there and, if you have the time, do spend at least a day exploring them all.
From the famous "Torre de Belém" to the Monastery, not forgetting the "Pasteis de Belém". Don't forget the "Centro Cultural" (CCB) or the "Padrão dos Descobrimentos".
It is very close to the center and very easily accessible by either train, tram, bus or car. There is usually plenty of parking spots.
I will be adding a page on Belem very soon.
- Museum Visits
- Arts and Culture
- Historical Travel
Padrão dos Descobrimentos
The names of great explorers still echo around Portugal and their courage to brave uncharted waters and sail to unknown destinations (maybe with strange animals and people) are an inspiration. It was these who took Portugal from being a small country to one that discovered and colonized many lands. It’s a bit “sentimentalist” but when I was a boy I dreamed of traveling the world in a caravel. Nowadays I prefer the quick airplane :-)
Padrão dos Descobrimentos, or Monument to the Discoveries, is a monument dedicated to Portugal’s Age of Discovery celebrating the Portuguese who mentoring and took part in those “non virtual” trips of the 15th and 16th C. It is located on the estuary of the Tagus river (facing the river), close to the place where in those days ships used to depart to their often unknown destinations -Belém beach.
The primitive monument that Cottinelli Telmo outlined and Leitão de Barros and Leopoldo de Almeida gave plastic and metal form, was raised in 1940 on the occasion of the "Exhibition of the Portuguese World" and was built with perishable materials. It was so remarkable that in 1960, for the commemorations marking 500 years since the death of Prince Henry the Navigator, it was rebuilt in concrete and white limestone.
The monument consists of a 52 metre-high slab of concrete, carved into the shape of the prow of a ship symbolizing a caravel, and it is peopled with limestone sculptures of 32 historical figures of the seafaring history. Leading the group is Prince Henry the Navigator, the driving force behind Portugal’s overseas discoveries, son of King João I of Portugal, and it is carrying a 3-sailed ship like those Portugal used at those times. Besides Henry we can spot several “important” Portuguese men and women from that time. Among them:
Vasco da Gama -discoverer of the sea route to India,
Pedro Álvares Cabral -discoverer of Brazil,
Fernão de Magalhães (best know worldwide through is “Spanish” name Ferdinand Magellan) - first to circumnavigate the globe, ,
Bartolomeu Dias -first to cross the Cape of Good Hope (before that was named Cape of Torments),
Afonso de Albuquerque -second viceroy of Portuguese India who extended the empire to the farthest places of Malay province and what is now Indonesian east islands,
Luís de Camões - the national poet who celebrated the navigations in the epic Os Lusíadas,
King Manuel I - ruler at the Age of Discovery,
Pedro Nunes - 16th C. mathematician and cosmographer of the kingdom who revolutionize the map representing system and gave the correct notion of route in a spherical world,
Nuno Gonçalves - the most important Portuguese painter of 15th C. with beautiful panels on exhibition at the National Ancient Art Museum.
The façade facing down to the ground takes on the form of a cross decorated by the Sword of the Order of Aviz, the main financial sponsor of the Discovery voyages. Inside the monument a small space hosts a multimedia exhibition on the history of Lisbon entitled “The Lisbon Experience”. The pavement in front of the monument features a mosaic decoration depicting a huge mariner’s compass made of colored marble containing a map of the world (as we know it today, not the known lands at the time of Discoveries) and the routes of various Portuguese explorers. It was a gift from South Africa in 1960.
Facing the monument, the Espelho de Água ("Water Mirror") was equally built for the 1940 exhibition and now houses some restaurants with a superb view.
On the top of the monument (reached via an elevator) one can enjoy wonderful panoramic views over the Tejo river, the Belém quarter and all its main treasures, such as the Belém Tower and the Jerónimos Monastery.
Served by city bus and trams and trains.
- Arts and Culture
- Historical Travel
I think half of Lisbon heads for Belem on Sunday - young, old, locals, tourists - even on a squally day in February the pavements were packed and the cafes crowded. Not that it's surprising - it's a lovely spot with loads of attractions. As well as the glorious monastery (more of that later) and the great Monument to the Discoveries and the Torre de Belem (they comes later too) there are several museums, parks and gardens, a palace or two - no wonder the Lisboetas come again and again. Any tourist who tried to tackle all of Belem's attractions in a single day would have to retire exhausted and wth some sights unseen I'm sure.
Not that everyone comes for a shot of culture. With a whole row of restaurants setting their tables up under sweet smelling orange trees, riverside walks, a mini-flea-cum-antique market and, probably most popular of all - the famed pastels de nata at the Antiiga Confeitaria de Belem, there are plenty of other diversions.
We opted for a bit of history and culture, a nod to the statue of Alfonso Alberquerque, the first Viceroy of India (the man the Casa de Bicos was built for) in his splendidly exotic Indian robes and turban, a plate of pastels, a walk along the riverside, a little retail therapy (some antique tiles and an old faience basket - nice) and, thanks to a pickpocket lifting my camera - a ride back to the city centre in a police car
Padrao dos Descobrimentos
Located on Belem, the Padrao dos Descobrimentos or Monument to the Discoveries is a great stone caravel that was built in commemoration of the heroes of Portugal's maritime history.
It was inaugurated in 1960 during celebrations of the 500 year anniversary of the death of the Infant D. Henrique (Henry the Navigator).
It is open Tues-Sun 9am-5pm or 6:30pm in July and August and you have to pay 2 euros ( in 2004) to go up and enjoy the beautiful view over Belem.
Mosteiro dos Jeronimos
Located on Belem, the Jeronimos Monastery is an impressive and maybe the most magnificent building in Portugal.
It was build by King Dom Manuel I, in memory of Vasco da Gama's successful voyage to India.
This amazing and huge monument took over 70 years to complete.
I only visited the church and the entrance is free but to enter the cloisters is charged 4 euros.
Torre de Belem
The Belem Tower (Torre de Belem) is an imposing monument that dates from around 1515 and was built as a fortress to protect Lisbon harbour. It commemorates the period of Portugal's overseas expansion and Empire building.
It is an UNESCO World Heritage site.
The time was small, so I didn’t went inside. Next time !
You can go to the top peer into the tiny dungeon.
The timetable is :Tuesday-Sunday 10am-5pm or 6.30pm in summer
The monastery of Jerònimos.
Its construction was commissioned by king Manuel I to commemorate Vasco da Gama’s voyage; to give thanks to the Virgin Mary for its success and to create a royal pantheon for the Aviz-Beja-Dinasty. The monastery was built on the site of a hermitage founded by Henry the Navigator around 1450. They begun to build it in 1502 and it took nearly the entire 16th century to complete it. Its predominant architectural style is Manueline (please, read tip on my Portugal page...).
The church of the monastery is also the resting place of Vasco Da Gama, Manuel I, his wife Maria and Luis De Camoes.
This monastery has a large double storey cloister. It was built in stages and designed by three architects. Diogo Boitac designed the lower floor in Manueline style.
- Historical Travel
- Museum Visits
Thanks to the obsession , and the deep pockets, of a king's younger son, the middle years of the 15th century saw Portugal's mariners venture further and further around the coast of Africa, opening the way to the great voyages of discovery that were to follow in the last years of the 15th and into the 16th century. It's this prince - Henry the Navigator - and his intrepid voyagers as much as the famous names of Dias, da Gama, Magellan and Portugal's missionary saint - Francis Xavier, who followed who are honoured by the huge slab of concrete and sculpture that is the Padrão dos Descobrimentos - the Monument to the Discoveries - that dominates the riverside at Belem.
With Henry at the prow, the sails of the caravel billowing above him and a crowd of captains and navigators, patrons and scientists, cartographers and writers behind him, the monument points west, to the mouth of the Tejo - the direction the ships took as they left Belem to sail to beyond the bounds of the known world. Their voyages were to bring immense riches to Portugal as they opened up the fabulous wealth of the Spice Trade to the country.
The monument was erected in 1960.
Further along the river, the Torre de Belém stands as one of the few 16th century buildings remaining in Lisbon. Built in 1515 as part of the city's defences,when it was built it stood near the middle of the river until, in 1777, the river's course was changed by an earthquake, leaving the tower all but on dry land. . Displaying strong Moorish influences in its architecture and classic Manueline decoration it has become a national symbol.
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