Just 8km away from the central square in Lisbon is Belém, a small parish at the mouth of the Tagus, famed for its rich history that helped begin Portugal’s reign as a powerful kingdom across the world. Nowadays there are many interesting tourist spots in Belém which we visited when we were in Lisbon.
Torre de Belém situated on the estuary of the Tagus was used to protect the city from enemies such as foreign warships and pirates. Built in 1519, this four-storey bastion is in the Manueline style; a popular Portuguese architecture style used originally under the reign of King Manuel I. Under King Manuel, Portugal flourished as it entered its age of exploration and commerce. This included Vasco da Gama’s sailing route to India (past the Cape of Good Hope) and the discovery of Brazil by Pedro Álvares Cabral. The age of exploration brought in not just money but also scientists and artists into Lisbon, helping the city grow culturally. Near the tower is a monument to the age of exploration headed up by Henry the Navigator, an important Prince who helped begin it all back in 1415.
On the picture above, at the bottom left is a sculpture of an Armillary Sphere which symbolises Portugal's exploration throughout the world. It can be seen on the national flag surrounding the coat of arms.
Close to the tower is the tomb of Vasco da Gama within Jerónimos Monastery. The monastery, like Belém tower is in the Manueline architectural style and also a UNESCO world heritage site. It took 100 years to build and was funded by King Manuel’s tax on traded goods from Africa and South Asia. This was a substantial amount of gold since the monastery is absolutely massive. King Manuel decided to choose the Hieronymites order of monks to be situated in the monastery. He chose this order to provide him protection in the afterlife once he passed away. The Hieronymites order were dedicated to Saint Jerome, which is why the monastery is named Jerónimos. It is interesting to note that during the famous earthquake of 1755 the monastery stood strong and sustained minimal damage, although it has been restored and renovated throughout the years.
A short walk from the monastery is the Berardo art museum. This museum contains a fabulous collection of modern and contemporary art. With artists such as Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol on show, the Berardo is worth checking out.
On the way back to Lisbon’s city centre, find a bakery or shop selling Pastéis de nata. These delicious custard tarts will make you keep coming back to Portugal for years. The people of Belém believe theirs are the best since the recipe originally came from the monastery. These delicious treats are not only cheap but well worth the trip out to Belém in the first place!