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Postcard from Lisbon's Torre de Belem

Picture of Nina Santos
Updated: 18 September 2017
Visiting Belém is a must when spending time in Lisbon since it is full of architectural and historical treasures. The Torre de Belém, or Belém Tower, is a beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Site that looks like it was plucked from the past rather than having stood for nearly 500 years. Along with the Jerónimos Monastery and Padrão dos Descobrimentos, it is one of the most sought-after landmarks around Lisbon.

Built in the early 16th century, between 1514 and 1519, it was used as a military fortification meant to protect the coast. It was also the first (or last) welcoming sight from the capital that sailors saw upon arrival (or departure). There were times when the tower’s dungeon was also used as a political prison. Although the original plans were drawn by King João II in the late 1400s, King Manuel I gave the official order to begin building 20 years after the first set of plans. Today visitors can walk up to the tower using a walkway from the esplanade to the rocky side of the Tagus River, but it was originally built on an island off the river’s bank.

The main designer was Portuguese architect Francisco de Arruda, who also worked in the northern Africa, Brazil, and Mozambique in addition to different regions in Portugal. The Moorish hints in his work are believed to have stemmed from his time in northern Africa. The tower was also an important lookout during the Age of Discoveries and in known today as a symbol of that era.

The primary architectural influence comprising the Belém Tower is Manueline, a Portuguese style inspired by the Age of Discoveries. It was also constructed with Gothic symbolism, mainly focused in the towers and statues.

The Belém Tower is a feast for the eyes, both inside and outside. Visitors can climb through the winding staircases to four floors and walk through the “Kings Hall”, the “Governor’s Hall”, an “audience room”, the defensive walls, towers, and terraces. The views over the river are just a couple among the many beautiful viewpoints in Lisbon. Standard entrance prices cost €5 and joint tickets can be purchased for both the tower and the Jeronimos Monastery for €12.