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December 31, 2015

Portugal: Lisbon, Jerónimos Monastery and Tower of Belém


Torre de Belém

Torre de Belém

Along the north side of the Tagus River estuary at the edge of the municipality of Lisbon Portugal is Belém. This civil parish is the location of the UNESCO World Heritage designated “Monastery of the Hieronymites and Tower of Belém in Lisbon,” two of Lisbon’s top tourist attractions.

Belém is on the far side of the 25th of April Bridge from Lisbon’s center, 25 minutes by tram from Praça do Comércio. Many tourists make the short trip to Belém. Some come to visit the historic monastery and tower. Others come to visit Pastéis de Belém for some of the best egg tart pastries, pastel de nata, in Lisbon. Both reasons are worthy.

Inside the cloister of Jerónimos Monastery

Inside the cloister of Jerónimos Monastery

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Near the pastry shop is the Jerónimos Monastery. Construction of the monastery was started in 1501. Soon after its completion a hundred years later in 1601, the monastery was declared a royal funerary monument. For many years only the royal family and the monks were allowed to enter. Today the monastery is open to anyone who pays the admission fee. (The attached church with the tomb of Vasco da Gama can be visited for free.)

Along the estuary, further to the west, is Belém Tower or Torre de Belém. Situated on a small island near the shore, the Belém Tower was constructed to guard the mouth of the Tagus River. Today the tower stands by itself. A small park area buffers the building from the Lisbon’s encroaching modernity. Fully restored in 1997, the decorated tower is believed to be Lisbon’s most popular monument to photograph.

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The tower and monastery share the same Portuguese Manueline architectural style. It is thought that the Manueline style blends aspects of Late Gothic with Spanish Plateresque, Mudéjar, Italian urban, and Flemish architecture. Whatever the influences, the Manueline style is strikingly different; it looks a little otherworldly. Belém’s Manueline buildings would fit well as locations for the Game of Thrones.

Belém’s historic buildings might be striking enough to distract less-focused tourists from the exquisite egg tarts waiting just down the road. It’s a rookie mistake.

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Inside the monastery's main chapel.

Inside the monastery’s main chapel.

Museu de Marinha occupies a part of the neo-Manueline Western wing of the Jerónimos Monastery.

Museu de Marinha occupies a part of the neo-Manueline Western wing of the Jerónimos Monastery.

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