If you are a tourist or visitor interested in European history, whatever you do, don’t miss seeing the two places named by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites: Belém Tower and Jerónimos Monastery.
In 1755 an estimated 85% of Lisbon was destroyed by a massive earthquake, followed by fires and a tsunami. The Belém Tower and Jerónimos Monastery were two of the old buildings that survived.
The ‘Torre de Belém’ is a building of the Portuguese Late Gothic style. It is built on a small island on the edge of the shore of the Tagus River. It stands over 30 meters or 4 storeys in height. It is built out of limestone and gleams whitely as a proud symbol of Lisbon to people approaching from the sea.
The building was completed in 1521 and was originally intended as a defense against hostile invaders from the sea coming into the port. Today it serves as an impressive gateway into Portugal’s capital. Its other name is the ‘Tower of St Vincent’ in honour of the patron saint of Lisbon.
Most tourists find the freguesia of Belém an irresistible attraction. This bairro or neighbourhood of the city is rich with history and beautiful old buildings; well worth spending some time there.
One of the greatest eras of Portugal’s past was the ‘Age of Discovery’; the age of Prince Henry the Navigator, Bartholomeu Diaz, Ferdinand Magellan, and Vasco da Gama. This is the part of the city where you will re-discover them.
Jerónimos Monastery is, if anything, even more famous than the tower. It is another example of the same highly valued ‘Manueline’ style of architecture.
In the middle of the 15th century, Henry the Navigator had a hermitage ‘Ermida do Restelo’ built on this site, and this is where the great seamen used to come to pray before sailing. This is where Vasco da Gama and his men prayed all night before starting their famous voyage to India via the Cape of Good Hope in 1497.
However, when he returned, it was to find construction beginning on a new monastery to commemorate his success. With various interruptions along the way, the building took 50 years to complete.