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Although it is located just outside of downtown Lisbon, the Tower of Belém on the Tagus River is a must-see attraction for visitors. Built as a fortress to defend the nearby Hieronymites monastery, the tower is a proud reminder of the discovery voyages of Vasco da Gama and the grandeur of the former Portuguese colonial empire.
The Torre de Belém was built at the beginning of the 16th century when Portugal was a world power, with colonies from the Americas to Africa and the Far-East. The tower bears testimony to the country’s most famous explorers: Vasco da Gama, who discovered the sea route to India; Pedro Álvares Cabral, the discoverer of Brazil; Bartolomeu Dias, who was the first person to sail around Cape Good Hope; and Ferdinand Magellan, the first to sail around the world. Their statues can be seen on the Monument to the Discoveries, further along the waterfront.
The Tower of Belém has another important historic significance: it is the only construction that was originally built in the elegant late-Gothic Manueline architecture style. Other Manueline monuments were built in a Gothic style and later rebuilt, but this 35-metre-high tower was originally decorated with typical Manueline elements, such as pillars in the form of braided ropes, richly adorned ribbed vaults and gargoyles in the form of animal heads. The Tower of Belém is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Lisbon. Especially around sunset, the white limestone monument is bathed in a golden glow, making for a very photogenic image. Enjoy an unforgettable view from the roof of the tower, looking out over the Tagus River, the 2,277-metre suspension bridge and the statue of Christ on the far shore (103 metres high, including the pillar).
“The Tower of Belém is the only original building constructed in a Manueline style”
The trip to the neighbourhood of Santa Maria de Belém is especially worthwhile as you will be able to visit 2 other top attractions. Close to the tower you will find the Padrão dos Descobrimentos, a 52-metre-high monument in the shape of a ship with billowing sails. This monument depicts the most important Portuguese historic figures. On the bow stands Henry the Navigator (Infante Dom Henrique de Avis). Contrary to what his name suggests, the king was not a great navigator himself, but he launched and financed the great discovery voyages. Another nearby attraction is the magnificent Hieronymites monastery (Mosteiro dos Jerónimos) with the tomb of Vasco da Gama.