The Belem Tower: Witness of Years Past
Also called Tower of St.Vincent, this is probably one of the most iconic monuments of Lisbon and also of Portugal. Its uncommon shape and location, within the waters of the Tagus estuary, will strike you at first sight.
Belem Tower in Lisbon (Torre de Belem) is a marvellous example of the typically Portuguese Manueline style. Here, you will find armillary spheres and knotted ropes, symbolizing Portugal´s discoveries and voyages around the globe and its nautical achievements. There are also rhinoceros depicted in the decoration of the balconies, which were the first seen in Europe, later sent by King Dom Manuel I to Pope Leo X in 1515AD, and that served as models for the masons.
The 4 main rooms of the Torre de Belem are each in their own floor: Governor´s hall in the first, the King´s room in the second floor, with its own loggia overlooking the Tagus River, in the third the audience room and a chapel in the fourth floor. At the top there’s a terrace from where you can overlook the Lisbon riverfront and control the whole estuary of the Tagus river. All of the rooms are decorated in late gothic style with its typical Portuguese ornamentations.
The Belem Tower had all kinds of purposes over history. After loosing its initial military purposes, it served for a long time as customs house, for incoming and leaving ships and later also as a penitentiary for revolutionary agitators during the 19th century.
Legend says that before the great earthquake of 1755 and its tsunami, which completely destroyed Lisbon and most of southern Portugal, the tower was firmly anchored in the middle of the estuary. But the Belem Tower (Torre de Belem, in Portuguese) was actually built on a very small island, and in 1993 it was necessary to build a huge pond around it in order to keep it surrounded by water.
The Belem Tower Lisbon area, which you can reach from Lisbon downtown with a nice ride on tram No. 15, is one of the most visited areas in the city. So, once in Belem District, you shouldn´t miss the Monument to the Discoveries and a bit further inland, you can find the Jeronimos Monastery. If you want to have a nice seafood dinner, before returning by tram or bus, try one of the restaurants in the former docks located under the 25 de Abril suspension bridge, which is around 2 km to the east, walking along the river.