The Tower of Belem
The introduction to Portugal for most foreign tourists begins with a visit to the main cultural and business center and the largest city of the country – Lisbon. The perfect panorama of long paved lanes, ancient ruins and white domes is a unique “recipe” of the capital’s attractiveness, created over several centuries by the best architects in the world. Among the hundreds of sites of the “city on seven hills”, famous far beyond the borders of the Portuguese Republic, the Tower of Belem, a calling card and one of the most important symbols of Lisbon, occupies a special place.
Facts of interest
The Tower of Belem (Torri di Belém, Tower of Saint Vincent) is a tall, fortified building in the Santa Maria de Belém Frege (district of Lisbon). It was built at the beginning of the 16th century on the orders of King João II to form part of the defense system at the mouth of the Tajo River and the main ceremonial gateway to the capital, but in 1580 after just a few hours of combat the garrison in the tower surrendered to the Spanish army commanded by the Duke of Alba. After that defeat, the dungeon of the tower served as a prison until 1830.
The first steps towards the preservation and restoration of the site began in the second half of the twentieth century, and in 1983 the Belem Tower in Lisbon was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In the following decade the building underwent a complete renovation, after which in 1999 Torri di Belém received the Europa Nostra award for its exterior restoration, and was added to the register of the Seven Wonders of Portugal as early as July 7, 2007.
The exterior of the building
The Tower of Belem is a 30-metre, 4-storey building made of light beige limestone from Lyso. The plan itself consists of a rectangular tower and a hexagonal bastion with elongated sides that protrude on the south side above the river. The landmark, created by a group of architects led by Francisco de Arruda, is the clearest example of the Portuguese Late Gothic Manueline style, which is especially evident in its elaborate crossed vault and representations of the symbols of the Order of Christ.
At the northeast corner of the structure, protected by a defensive wall, for access to the citadel is a drawbridge decorated with floral motifs and the royal coat of arms. Along the bridge stand small columns decorated with armillary spheres, which symbolized the age of the Great Geographic Discoveries and were used as the personal emblem of King Manuel I. Decorative carved, twisted ropes and elegant knots also point to Portugal’s maritime history and are common elements of the Manueline style.
The interior of the Torri di Belém
The interior of the Belém Tower in Lisbon also displays the Gothic style. Every element of the decoration is skilfully and very carefully designed, so that you can easily recreate the atmosphere and go back in your mind to a bygone era.
The bastion and each of its 4 floors have their own name and design features:
- The bastion is the lowest floor of the structure, where the tower’s artillery is housed in 17 cannon pits. There is also a small courtyard in the center, which provided air circulation and helped disperse the smoke from cannon fire.
- The 1st floor of the tower is the Governor’s Hall, an 8-cornered space with corridors in the northeast and northwest corners that connect to the watchtowers. In the center of the room is a small cistern in which water was collected after rain. To the left of it there is a spiral staircase providing access to the upper floors.
- The 2nd floor is the Royal Hall, one of the most beautiful rooms of Torri di Belém, which has a fireplace in the northwest corner that extends to the 3rd floor. The hall has 3 terraces, richly decorated with carved patterns and reminiscent of Venetian medieval balconies.
- Floor 3 – Auditorium – living room, made in a more restrained and austere style. In the southern wall 2 windows are separated by a balustrade and a semicircular arch. On the opposite side of the hall, the windows offer beautiful views of the water and the horizon.
- Floor 4 – Chapel – one of the most visited rooms of the Belem Tower. The room is richly decorated with state symbols, and the centerpiece of the decor is an ancient royal shield.
The tour of one of the most beautiful historical sites in Lisbon ends with a climb to the main observation deck. From the top of the tower you have a breathtaking panoramic view of the city and you can see the Chapel of St. Jerome, the Jerónimos Monastery, the tower of St. Santiago, etc.
The Tower of Belem is open to tourists daily from 10:00 to 17:30 between October and April and from 10:00 to 18:30 between May and September.
The standard price for a ticket for 1 adult is 6 c.u. Students and seniors over 65 years are entitled to a 50% discount. Please note that you can buy tickets at the ticket office not later than 30 minutes before closing time.
How to get there?
The Torri di Belém tower is one of the top attractions in Lisbon and is therefore on every tourist’s “must see” list. It is easy enough to reach the destination by public transport:
Torre de Belém Tower in Lisbon, photo and description
Belém Tower: history and facts
Belém Tower, Belém Tower, Belém Tower, Belem Tower, Torre di Belém (Torre de Belem) – this is probably not a complete list of all the popular transformations of the name of a rather popular landmark in Lisbon.
Its popularity is mainly due to its UNESCO World Heritage status, which the Belem Tower shares with the neighboring Jerónimos Monastery. These are the only sites in Lisbon that have received such an honor. And in principle the few sites that survived the 1755 earthquake.
Belém Tower – a symbol of Portugal’s former greatness
The Tower of Belem was built between 1514 and 1519 and is associated with the Age of Discovery, a period in which Portugal and Lisbon played a major role.
The architectural style in which this building is made is called Manuelino. It is a style that is unique to Portugal and was developed during its heyday as a maritime power. This style includes elements of Gothic, Renaissance, a little Moorish and even Indian, all of which the Portuguese have seen in their many expeditions.
That is why the Tower of Belem very often acts as a symbol of the maritime expansion and imperial grandeur of Portugal…which it once had.
Now the role of this structure is purely symbolic, but, of course, this was not always the case. Originally the main function of the tower was defensive. Later at different times it served as a powder warehouse, a prison and even a customs post.
An interesting fact: originally the tower was not on the banks of the Tagus, but directly in its waters.
Is it worth going inside?
1. As mentioned above, the tower is very popular with tourists. In fact we have seen such long queues in Lisbon only at the streetcar stop #28 and at the neighboring Geronimos. True, we are talking about July – peak tourist season.
2. The situation is aggravated by the fact that inside the tower, for security reasons, there can be no more than 120 people at a time. The queue moves very slowly. With all my heart, I would like to note that even this number of people is too many for the tower. The aisles inside are very narrow, and it is impossible for people walking toward each other to separate. Therefore, all streams of visitors are regulated by special “traffic lights”.
The interiors of the tower are, to say the least, rather empty. They noticeably lose out to the architecture of the facade. In other words, there is absolutely nothing to look at inside of the tower.
4. The observation deck located at the top of the tower and, logically, being an ultimate goal of all its visitors, is inferior by all parameters to the Monument to the Discoverers, which is situated nearby.
The conclusion suggests itself: in the “high” season, a visit to the site will take you a lot of time, and the result is likely to fail to meet expectations. You can see all the beauties of Belene Tower from outside.
Saving time is worth it: do not forget that another queue will probably be waiting for you in Geronimush, which you should not pass by. Both attractions are close to each other and in 99% of cases are visited by tourists on the same day.
From October to April from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
From May to October from 10h to 18h 30h.
6 euros per adult, children up to 12 years old free.
This attraction is located in the Belem region. Although it is a long way from the center of Lisbon (6 km) it is a must-see. In addition to the Belém Tower there are also: Jerónimos Monastery, Monument to the Discoverers, and the famous Café Pasteis de Belem.
To get to Belem, take streetcar 15E from Plaça Figueira and get off at the Belem stop.
You can also visit this area with a guided tour in Russian.