1. Belém Tower
Belém Tower  Lisboa, Lisboa

Belém Tower

The Belem Tower, a masterpiece of Manueline Art, a few minutes from Lisbon.

Image source: @tamirisalice
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Belém - The Tower of maritime defence

In Restelo stands what is one of the most iconic monuments of architecture in Portugal: the Belem Tower. A few kilometres from the centre of the capital of the country, this building, constructed in parallel with the Jerónimos Monastery, rises over the Tagus with the intention of defending it, as well as guaranteeing the safety of the Monastery itself. But this building has several names: popularly, the Portuguese call it the Tower of Belém, due to the place where it is located, but it was once called the Tower of São Vicente a Par de Belém and is now officially called the Tower of São Vicente.

The Tower of Belem more than a symbol

This is one of the most iconic symbols of the city of Lisbon, and of the iconography of the Discoveries in Portugal, as well as of the entire national identity: the Coat of Arms of Portugal and the inscriptions of crosses of the Order of Christ on the bastion windows are just some of the elements that mark this distinct identity, along with figures such as ropes, knots and animals, along with other elements of Moorish allusion. The Tower of Belém is a monument to the architecture at the time of King Manuel I, finding a middle term between the medieval turrets and the modern bastion. As the centuries passed since its construction began, in 1514, by the hands of the architect Francisco de Arruda, however, the Tower lost its role in the defence of the Tagus bar, giving way to dungeons during the Spanish occupation, between 1580 and 1640, as well as during the reign of John IV. It was also used as a customs post, telegraphic signalling post and lighthouse.

A National Monument since 1907, the Torre de Belém was classified in 1983, together with the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has been one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal since 2007. It is also one of the most visited places in Portugal, receiving 608,000 tourists in 2015.

Secrets of the Tower of Belém

A marvel of the Manueline style

What secrets does the Tower of Belem hold? It was the year 1495 and Portugal was about to reach the peak of the Age of Discoveries, with maritime connections - and, consequently, commercial ones - with Africa, Brazil and India. With the arrival of new exotic products, the Manueline style entered a euphoric phase of transition between the Middle Ages and Renaissance, and it is in this context that the Tower of Belém was built, under the invocation of Saint Vincent of Zaragoza, patron saint of Lisbon, in a macro-plan for the defence of the bar of the River Tagus. Construction began in 1514, and was completed in 1519, with Gaspar de Paiva as the first mayor.

"In front of this building, the King ordered the construction of the tower of S. Vicente, which is called Belém, founded in the water, to guard this Monastery and the port of Lisbon. This tower is watched over night and day, so that no sail can pass without being seen, and it obeys the shots that the artillery makes from it", wrote Damião de Góis in the Chronica do Felicissimo Rei Dom Emanuel, 1566-1567.

The miracle of Belém

In order to fulfil its role, it was decided that the Tower of Belém should be built offshore, on the banks of the Tagus. The earthquake of 1755 decided otherwise, and its magnitude was such that it diverted the river from its original course, making the tower accessible from the land. This is the origin of the legend that says that the Tower of Belém moved by itself.

Practical information

Opening hours of The Torre of Belém

The Torre de Belém can be visited all year round, except on 1 January, Easter Sunday, 1 May and 25 December. From May to September, it is open every day except Monday, from 10am to 6.30pm. From October to April, the tower is open from 10 am to 5.30 pm. Last entries at 5 p.m.

Entrance fee

- Under 12 years old : Free

- Single ticket (12 to 64 years old): 6 euros

- Combined ticket (Belem Tower + Hieronymites' Monastery): 12 euros

- Students: 3 euros

- Senior citizens: 3 euros

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