A History of Padrão dos Descobrimentos in 60 Seconds

Photo of Nina Santos
27 November 2017

Belém, located southwest of downtown Lisbon, is like a historian’s playground filled with centuries-old architectural masterpieces that date as far back as the 15th century to a time when Portugal was a global powerhouse in terms of navigation and exploration. There is one modern landmark from the 1960s, however, that simply celebrates the history. The Padrão dos Descobrimentos, or the Discoveries Monument, that stands today was built in time for the 500-year-anniversary of the death of Portugal’s Prince Henry the Navigator and to symbolize Portugal’s role during the Age of Discoveries.

Initially, the Padrão dos Descobrimentos was built as a temporary display for the Portuguese World Exhibition, or Exposição do Mundo Português, in 1940. The materials used to construct the initial monument were not long-lasting, mainly consisting of plaster and burlap with some wood added to the mix. But when it was reconstructed 20 years later, it was built to last as another of Lisbon’s standing memories.

Today, the Padrão dos Descobrimentos is a striking, 52-meter (170-foot) memorial composed of concrete and stone, built to resemble the bow of a ship pointing towards the sea from its location along Tagus River. The location of the monument is as symbolic as the monument itself, denoting where many important voyages began and ended. A statue of Prince Henry the Navigator stands at the front, and 32 of the most influential Portuguese figures from the 14th and 15th centuries are lined up behind him along the ramps on both sides. Among the men (and one woman) represented include the navigator and explorer Vasco da Gama—who was the first person to reach India by sea routes—the navigator and explorer Ferdinand Magellan—the first person in the world to circumnavigate the globe—and Portuguese poet Luís de Camões, a literary pioneer.

While visitors enjoy viewing the monument up close from the outside, tickets can be purchased for €5 (around US$5.90) to peruse the museum inside and climb (or take an elevator) up to an observation deck above. From the top, visitors will enjoy yet another amazing view over Lisbon, this one taking in the Jeronimos Monastery and Belém Tower, in addition to the river, and the beautiful compass rose mosaic stretched across the square at the foot of the monument—a gift from the Republic of South Africa in August of 1960.

Helpful tip: To visit, hop on one of the buses heading toward Belém from Cais do Sodré station or Praça do Comércio, or enjoy a ride on the tram 15.

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