There are many culturally rich destinations to visit in Portugal. One of the popular places to visit is Belem Tower, a UNESCO World Heritage Site situated at the entrance of Lisbon’s harbor. Built in 1515, the tower was built with the intention of guarding the entrance to Lisbon, at the mouth of the Tagus river. The tower is historically significant has it served as a starting point for many exploratory voyages and is a monument to Portugal’s Age of Discovery.
Belem Tower is built by the architect Francisco de Arruda in the Manueline fashion, incorporating beautiful stonework patterns and sculptures of historical figures such as St. Vincent. Stonework of a rhinoceros on the tower even inspired Dürer’s depiction of the animal. Because of Arruda’s past architectural work in Morocco, there are also watchtowers and other specifics in the Moorish style. Some of the stunning architectural details include, Venetian-inspired loggias and gorgeous arcaded riverfront windows. There is also a sculpture of Our Lady of Safe Homecoming, which was an important icon of protection and safety for sailors heading out on potentially dangerous voyages and explorations.
Below are some of the major highlights of this beautiful stone fortress:
The Manueline-style Architecture
The details of this style are awe-inspiring especially on the riverfront terrace. The most popular motifs found in the stonework include knots, crosses, ropes, and armillary spheres.
Only two years before the tower was built, and Indian king gifted the king of Portugal with a Rhinoceros, which sparked immense fascination and curiosity in Europe. The rhino was so exotic that it inspired a sculpture which in turn inspired the famous artwork by Albrecht Dürer which hangs in the British Museum in London.
Our Lady of Safe-Homecoming
This riverfront sculpture served as a symbol of protection for sailors embarking on dangerous sea voyages.
Surrounding the lower terrace, there are six turrets in a Moorish style. While in the past there were used to positions weapons, now they’re a great spot for visitors to take pictures.
There are sixteen cannon holes used to defend the city.
On the towers lower floor is a dungeon where prisoners were once held. The dungeon’s ceiling is low so prisoners could not even stand up during their imprisonment.
Every floor has small balconies in all directions. The southern riverfront balcony is the biggest and is embellished with Manueline adornments.
Look out onto the Tagus estuary and the Belem area. The best views can be seen from the rooftop terrace.
Visiting Hours and Information:
October to May
From 10.00 a.m. to 5.30 p.m. (last admission at 5.00 p.m.)
May to September
From 10.00 a.m. to 6.30 p.m. (last admission at 5.00 p.m.)
(Closed: Mondays and 1 January, Easter Sunday, 1 May, 13 June and 25 December)
How to Get There:
City bus lines: 727, 28, 729, 714 and 751
Suburban train: Belém station
Ferry: Belém Ferry Station