This historic neighbourhood of Lisbon is located by the estuary of the Tagus River, only 6km away from downtown and is famous for its UNESCO World Heritage sites: the Jerónimos Monastery and the Bélem Tower.
Belém symbolizes the Portuguese Age of Discovery, the period during which the Portuguese Empire discovered new trading routes and conquered lands all over the world. The Monument of the Discoveries was built in 1960 to commemorate the death of King Henry the Navigator, the main promoter of the overseas explorations. He is easily recognised in the group of sculptures of the monument, as the leader of the noblemen and illustrious characters involved in the expeditions to the “New World”.
From the marina is an amazing panoramic view of the Empire Square and the magnificent 15th-century Jéronimos Monastery. This was the most ambitious and richly ornamented project of King Manuel I. The Jerónimos monks were in charge of the monastery and provided spiritual guidance to the courageous navigators before they set sail. It’s known that Vasco da Gama stayed overnight here before heading to the Far East.
The most iconic building of Lisbon—and arguably the most representative of Portugal— is the 16th-century Bélem Tower. The fortress was erected on the mouth of the Tagus to protect Lisbon from invaders. The tower is a remarkable example of the Portuguese Manueline style and anecdotally, you can see an image of a rhinoceros under the Moorish turrets, it was the first living example seen in Europe since the third century. As I was told, King Manuel I organized a battle between the rhinoceros and an elephant, in which the rhinoceros won and was sent as a gift to Pope Leo X.
Would you like to relax during your visit to Belém?! You can organize a picnic in the parks by the sea, visit the Calouste Gulbenkian Planetarium or take a walk in the Tropical Botanical Garden: surrounded by 600 tree species from all over the world, you will feel as if you’ve stepped on to a remote island for the first time!
Belém is also known for the Fábrica de Pastéis de Bélem, the birthplace of the delicious Portuguese custard tart, my favourite pastry! Don’t panic if you see a long queue, as it usually goes fast but if not, it’s worth the wait!
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