Lisbon Adventures II – Belém

Another day of visiting some great sights of Lisbon.  This time we took the bus out to the western end of the city, to Belém.  This is right at the mouth of the river, and where there are several important things to see.   

We loved Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries). This monument was first erected in 1940, in a temporary form, as part of the Portuguese World Exhibition.  It was reconstructed in 1960 to mark 500 years since the death of the Infante Dom Henrique (Henry the Navigator).  A stylised caravel (Portuguese vessel used by the explorers in the 1500’s) seems to be setting out to sea, with Henry the Navigator in its prow. On the two ramps ascending to the Prince are some of the significant characters of the Portuguese overseas expansion and cultural names from the age of the Discoveries, 32 in total, all portrayed with symbols that allude to their identity: navigators, cartographers, warriors, colonisers, missionaries, chroniclers and artists.  

The monument is huge and very evocative.  In the plaza in front is a large map of the world showing all the places ‘colonized’ by Portugal.  They were a very significant world trading power with their explorers (and most would say plunderers) in the late 1400’s and 1500’s.

Close by is the Torre de Belém, (Belém Tower), a 16th-century fortification that served as a point of arrival and departure for Portuguese explorers, and as a ceremonial gateway to Lisbon.  The tower was built on a small island in the Tejo river near the Lisbon shore, but it now sits very near the shore because the river was redirected after the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. Upon learning this, it explained the very flat land in this area, and it was sobering to realize how the landscape can change.  We did not go in because there were too many tourists in the area and these tourists did not want to wait in line.

Beside the Tower is the Monumento Combatants Ultramar  It is a beautiful monument, and an effective tribute to the people who sacrificed their lives for their country. Even though the plaques behind the monument list all the casualties of all wars, it is intended to specifically address the losses suffered in the the Overseas War (Combatants Ultramar) a very dark period in Portugal’s modern history, that ultimately resulted in the overthrow of the Salazar dictatorship. During the conflict, the country’s forces fought in three African theaters from 1961 to 1974, and more than 9,000 Portuguese soldiers lost their lives.

Two black-and-white pillars rise out of the clear waters of a public lake, forming an incomplete inverted triangle. An eternal flame sits under the point where the pillars would meet.  Accoding to some interpretations, the lake symbolizes the oceans that separated many of the combatants from their homeland, while the pillars act as a metaphor for unity. The implication is that those who served came from different backgrounds and practiced different religions, but all made the same sacrifice.

It was beautiful.

Another church was the major highlight for both of us today but this one had walls.   The Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (Jerónimos Monastery) is spectacular.  We tried to go there first today but we could not because we found out the Grand Duke and Duchess of Luxembourg were coming there on their 2-day state visit.  So we had to go later in the day.  Reading up on them, we learned that there is a very close diplomatic connection between the two countries, for over 130 years.  Portugal provided refuge for the Luxembourg royals in 1940, after fleeing the the German invasion, and Portuguese make up 15% of expats in Luxembourg.  Who knew?  Learn something every day.

They had rolled up the red carpet by the time we gained entrance in the afternoon. Construction of the church started in 1501 and lasted 100 years!  King Manuel originally funded the project with riches from the trading profits from Africa and India, and selected the religious order of Hieronymite monks to occupy the monastery, which they did until it was abandoned in 1833.  Through the years, several additions and modifications were made.  In 1983, UNESCO formally designated the Monastery of the Hieronymites and Tower of Belém as a World Heritage Site.

The cloisters were the highlight; the carvings, symmetry and deign were spectacular.   We could only walk around the outside perimeter, but we could go up to the second floor for more birds-eye view.  

The church was mind boggling.  Its primary architectural design was gothic, with the soaring arches but elements of Baroque opulence were visible in some of the apses and the carvings on the pillars.  I guess one never tires of viewing churches on their travels!

We ended the day with a Pastel de Nata at Pastéis de Belém  This is the original!  The bakery was started 1837 and has followed an ancient recipe from the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos since then. That secret recipe is recreated every day, using only traditional methods.  Apparently they tried automating the production, but the product did not taste as well, so they still make huge quantities each day by hand.  It was yummy and a treat to taste a bit of original history! 

The temperatures in these past days have been high : up to 30C.  I’m writing this up on the terrace, and my watch says it 30C but the ever-present breeze makes it very comfortable and iI just was serenaded by a carillon concert from Igreja de Santo Estevão (church) that I can see from the terrace.  Now that is some magic! Tonight we will find a restaurant in the winding streets of our neighbourhood and see how the locals live!

P.S. We did not expect to see this in Portugal. I guess fine Canadian dining has crossed the ocean.

5 thoughts on “Lisbon Adventures II – Belém

  1. Thanks for sharing Anita. We also spent a few days in Lisbon a few years ago. it was nice trip down memory lane to see your pictures. Your more detailed commentary helped me know more about some of the sites I saw! As well, you visited sites we did not see so it has given us a reason to possibly go back. I regret not waiting the 2 or 3 hour wait for the Jerónimos Monastery. Instead we visited the quiet Jardim Botânico Tropical which was very close by. Also we never had the famous pastries from Pastéis de Belém. The afternoon lineup was out the door and down the block. However, in Portugal we sampled lots from Pastelaria Shops driving through towns and cities as there were no McDonalds or Tim Hortons around for restroom breaks and I always feel guilty not getting a coffee and sampling their offerings! lol
    Happy to see you and Bill are having a marvelous trip.


    1. Hi Dave. I agree with you. I would not have waited 2-3 hr either especially since there is not shade there! I agree. Pastry shops anywhere are pretty fine. The ones in Belem were a tiny bit different but not significantly. That was not a loss for you! Stay tuned for more adventures. We are north of Lisbon now by car making our way slowly to Porto where we start the kayak trip.


      1. I look forward to hearing about Porto if you have some free time there before kayaking. We went east from Lisbon and did not get a chance to visit Porto. Glad you have your paddles after that ordeal you reported. Barb and I are excited to return to New Hampshire this weekend for a “Hilly Hike”. I think it is now twenty years at the Kinsman Lodge.


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