A walking holiday in Portugal: Lisbon and the Bélem Tower
Just a stone's throw from the centre of Lisbon, Bélem is one of the most emblematic districts of the Portuguese capital. Several of our Portugal walking holidays start and end in Lisbon and we recommend that you include or combine a visit to Bélem on foot, by bike or tramway. The Monastery of Jeronimos, the Monument of Discoveries, the Pastry Shop of Bélem, the Tropical Agronomy Garden, the Cultural Centre of Bélem, the museums of archaeology, the navy, contemporary art and carriages are all fascinating places, and of course, there is the Tower of Bélem.
A self-guided walking tour in Portugal: discovering a true Portuguese symbol
On the banks of the Tagus estuary, the Tower of Bélem, built between 1514 and 1521, is a gem of Manueline architecture that has become a true Portuguese symbol: massive & solid, but at the same time refined and elegant. It is a defensive tower at the entrance to the port, built on an island near the banks of the Tagus by the military architect Francisco de Arruda, a specialist who had already built several fortresses in Morocco. The Bélem Tower, along with other defensive elements, ensured that the wealthy Lisbon never came under attack from pirates or enemy armadas. It originally housed the harbourmaster and a garrison, and later became a prison.
The birth of Manuelan art
After almost a century of great discoveries, including the discovery of India by Vasco de Gama in 1498 and Brazil by Amilcar Cabral in 1500, King Manuel I was one of the richest and most powerful rulers in Europe. He wanted to inscribe in stone the importance of the Great Portuguese Discoveries and the constitution of the Empire and thalassocracy of which he was the sovereign. Thus, was born Manuelan art, a decorative art that glorifies the Great Discoveries covering all the monuments of the 16th century and of which the Tower of Bélem is one of the main masterpieces.
An impressive and decorative monument to visit on your Portugual walking stay
The influence of Moorish art is evident in the delicate decorations of the arched windows and balconies, as well as on the fluted domes of the watchtowers. The machicolations and crenellations are decorated with rich sculptural ornaments, typical of the Manuelian style, such as the armillary sphere (symbol of Manuel I), the cross of the Order of Christ or the elaborate ogive crosses. Some elements of the tower date from its restoration in the mid-19th century, such as the shields decorating the crenellations or the small cloister. The entire tower is decorated with twisted cords carved in stone, which form a knot on the north façade of the building. The tower is surmounted by statues of St. Vincent and St. Michael the Archangel and has several arched windows. The Renaissance-style covered loggia runs the entire length of the south face of the first floor of the tower, giving a Venetian touch to the architecture of the building.
The monument consists of a bridge, a bastion and a 35-metre tower spread over four floors. The narrow corridors of the spiral stone staircase lead to the various rooms and to spectacular panoramic viewpoints. The strategic position and the incredible views, the finesse of the sculptures and the originality of the building amaze all visitors. There is one final surprising element to be discovered on your Portugal walking tour: look out for the first European representation of the rhinoceros in stone….