Torre de Belém - Tower of Belém, Lisbon
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 €
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.
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.
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.
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
Another great sunny day as we continued our walk along the Tejo in Belem. Not far from the Monument to the Discoveries, is the age-old landmark of Lisbon - the Tower of Belem.
Originally set much further out in the Tejo, the reclaimation of land along the north bank of the river for roads and buildings has almost attached this former island fortress to land! This fortress was built by King Manuel I in 1515-21 to provide naval protection for the city. It also came to be known as the point of departure for many sailing expeditions that uncovered the far corners of the globe for the Portugese Empire.
Linked to the mainland by a short elevated walkway, it is possible to tour this building to enjoy its great architecture and the views from topside. When you are finished, there is a nice grassy park beside it where you can relax under some shady trees like we did!
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.
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
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.
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.
The glory of Belem is surely the magnificent Manueline Mosteiro dos Jeronimos (Monastery of St Jerome) - though what that particularly ascetic saint would make of such grandeur in his name is hard to fathom.
The monastery may be named for Jerome, but its beautiful church is dedicated to Santa Maria de Belém.
Before the great edifice we see today was built however, there was just a a small chapel, dedicated to Our Lady, Star of the Sea, protector of sailors and a most fitting dedication for the church where Vasco de Gama prayed before setting sail. Manuel I ordered the building of a great church on the site in thanks for da Gama's safe return from his voyage of discovery to India. Da Gama now lies now lies entombed in splendour immediately inside the entrance. Among the other notables and royalty buried in the church is Catherine of Braganza - Charles II of England's sad little queen who returned to Portugal after his death.
The term Manueline denotes a particularly Portuguese expression of the late Gothic, with rounded arches instead of pointed ones and an almost organic assymetry with much use of floral motifs - all of which the main portal particularly has in spades. Inside the slender columns and soaring roof are a marvel of space and lightness as the delicate tracery of the ribs of the roof seem to float above you with minimal support from the palm-tree-like pillars.
Built in pedra lioz (limestone) from local quarries, it took a hundred years to complete the church Although damaged by the earthquake of 1755, the church and its adjoining monastery survive as the most complete example of original Manueline style in Portugal.
The Monument to the Discoveries was inaugurated in 1960 during celebrations of the 500 year anniversary of Infant D. Henrique (Henry the Navigator)'s death.
It evokes the maritime discoveries, and reproduces a model that was used in the 1940’s exhibition. With the shape of a caravel, it is headed by Henry the Navigator with the company of most of the historical Portuguese figures.
From the top, which you can access by elevator located inside the building, you have a magnificent view of the area, having at your feet the compass in paved stone offered by the Republic of South Africa, in 1960, to the celebration, and that between galleons and mermaids, shows the routes of the Portuguese discoverers.
Belém Tower was built in 1515, by order of king Manuel I according to the defense plan of the Tagus estuary decided by his antecessor, King João II.
The tower is replete with Manueline decoration, with crosses of the Military Order of Christ and some naturalistic elements such as the rhinoceros, said to be the first such representation in stone known in Europe.
If you have time you may go inside and up to the top, but if you are in a rush than maybe you'd better save your time for another highlight of the area –the monastery on the top of all.
Moving from the cool, dim light and soaring pillars and roof of the church at the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos into the pale golden square of the adjacent cloisters, the contrast between the two is remarkable and yet each, in its own way, is a perfect example of Portugal's unique Manueline style.
The graceful arches of the two-storeyed cloister are supported on wonderfully carved columns, every one different from the others, decorated with sea monsters, ropes and other nautical and marine motifs that draw their inspiration from the incredible voyages that inspired the building of the monastery. The wealth those discoveries brought to the nation was immense and, in thanks, a portion of the taxes on that wealth was used to finance the work. The upper story is particularly delicate and beautiful.
The monastery was damaged by the earthquake of 1755 and then, following the secularization of church property in 1834, was used as a school and an orphanage for many years. Such a beautiful and historic building was never going to be lost to posterity though -it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 (together with the Tower of Belem)because of its importance as a reminder of the great maritime discoveries it celebrates, discoveries that "laid the foundations of the modern world". Whilst some of the restoration seems very obvious right now, no doubt time will weather the new work.
The National Archaeological Museum and the Maritime Museum are housed in wings of the monastery.
This is one of Lisbon's main sights, you can't miss it! The watchtower was built in the early 16th century on an island in the Tejo river. As the riverbed changed over the years it's on standing at the bank of the river. The tower is covered with carvings depicting lions, dolphins and a rhinoceros.