Belem Tower, a Lisbon sentinel
Belem Tower, located in Lisbon, is a magnificent fortress that in 1983 was named as World Heritage Site by UNESCO, along with nearby Hieronymites Monastery.
Belem Tower (Torre de Belém) is a fortified tower, also named Tower of St Vincent, in Belem, nearby Hieronymites Monastery. The Monument to the Discovers is another neighbour. They all honor the Golden Age of the Portuguese Discoveries and are listed in my top 10 monuments in Lisbon.
Belem Tower history
Built to honor Lisbon’s patron St Vincent, following a decision of King John II, Belem Tower was meant to be part of the defensive system for the estuary of the Tagus River, providing crossfire with the fortress of São Sebastião da Caparica on the south bank.
Originally, the Belem Tower was built on an island closely located to the right bank of the Tagus River, opposite the Restelo beach. However, the creeping of the shore towards south over the years, brought the monument almost to dry land, where it stands nowadays.
Its construction started in 1514, under the orders of the architect Francisco de Arruda. The Belem Tower was completed in 1520 and it is a magnificent example of the Manueline style, here represented by the stone rope that encircles the Tower, by the heraldic motifs and by its most famous rhinoceros, the first stone representation of this animal made in Europe, that inspired Dürer’s rhinoceros; nevertheless, Belem Tower shows also elements of other architectural styles, mainly due to the influence of the Morocco fortifications where Francisco de Arruda worked.
Belem Tower consists of a quadrangular tower, inspired by the medieval castles, and a polygonal bastion, designed to support heavy artillery. The monument is mostly decorated on the south side, characterized by the loggia with its impressively decorated balustrade. Above the loggia are the shield of D. Manuel I and the armillary spheres.
Another highlight of this monument is the statue of the Virgin and Child, Our Lady of Safe Homecoming, dated from the 18th century, placed on the wall of the cloister built into the terrace of the bastion.
Don’t miss the chance to climb all the way up, where you will have a magnificent view of the estuary of the river and of the western part of the Lisbon city.
Belem Tower was used as a fortress until 1580 when Portugal lost its independence and was ruled by Spanish kings for 40 years. Thereafter it was mainly used as a political prison, even when Portugal recovered its independence, as King Miguel I imprisoned there his liberal opponents. Belem Tower was also used as a customs house and even as a lighthouse.
In 1983, together with the nearby Hieronymites Monastery, UNESCO classified Belem Tower as World Heritage Site. These monuments were named jointly because they were considered masterpieces of the Manueline style that symbolizes the Portuguese maritime discoveries, revealing new lands and Peoples, thus changing men’s vision of the world.
In 1999 Belem Tower was distinguished with a Europa Nostra award.