The tower of Belém is Lisbon’s most emblematic monument and a symbol of Portugal!
The ornamentation and beauty of the Belém tower can make us think that the monument was conceived as a decorative element on the bank of the Tagus River. Nothing could be further from the truth! Its firepower, combined with the border tower (on the other bank), played a phenomenal role in the defense of the Port of Belém.
The South side of the Tower of Belém (facing the river) is its most ornate face. If you have a chance to observe it, you will see, at the prow of the monument, a sculpted image of the virgin with the baby Jesus on her lap.
WHERE IS BELEM TOWER?
Officially called Torre de São Vicente, it is located in the parish of Belém and on the right bank of the Tagus River.
BELEM TOWER INTERIOR
When you enter Belém tower, you will see 16 windows with old war cannons. With the Philippine occupation (1580-1640), the armouries gave way to prisons where prisoners were kept.
The fortification has five floors and ends in a large terrace. The connection between the floors is made by a spiral staircase (on days when the tower has many visitors, it is difficult to go up and down the staircase…).
Each floor (room) of the tower has a different name, namely (from top to bottom): terrace, chapel, courtroom, kings’ room, governor’s room.
Closed days: Mondays, January 1st, Easter Sunday, May 1st, and December 25th.
May to September: 10:00 – 18:30
Adults: 6 euros (visit to the tower); 12 euros (Tower + visit to Mosteiros dos Jerónimos); 16 euros (tower + Mosteiro dos Jerónimos + National Archaeology Museum)
Over 65s and youth card: 50% discount. Free for children under 12 years old and Lisboa card users
CURIOSITIES ABOUT THE TOWER OF BELÉM
- The official name is Torre de São Vicente de Belém (Tower of St. Vincent de Belém) (homage to the patron saint of Lisbon)
- The Tower was built on top of a basalt island that used to be in Belém beach
- At the top of the fortification, you will find a magnificent terrace which is also a fantastic viewpoint over the river Tejo, Belém and Trafaria (south bank of the Tejo)
- In one of the faces of the tower, there is a carved image of a rhinoceros. On another face of the monument we can find the image of Nossa Senhora do Bom Sucesso (also known as Virgem do Restelo). It was believed that this image protected the ships that left from here.
- The architect responsible for the construction was Francisco Arruda
- After being a defense structure, it was also a dungeon and a lighthouse.
- Since 1983 it is a World Heritage Site (classification awarded by UNESCO)
BELÉM TOWER HISTORY
It was commissioned by João II of Portugal and was built on a basalt base. It started to be built in 1515 and was finished in 1519. The work was directed by Francisco Arruda. A work of architecture in the Manueline style that results in a synthesis between a keep (of medieval style) and the walls where the defense weapons were fixed. In the past, the fortification was completely surrounded by water. Today, the tower is connected to dry land by a wooden walkway that rises above the old Belém beach.
On the west side, we can see a rhino gargoyle (it was in the year 1513 that the first rhino arrived in Portugal from India).
It is a monument classified by UNESCO as a world heritage site (since 1983). It won the prize of one of the wonders of Portugal (in 2007).
WHAT TO SEE NEAR BELEM TOWER
BELÉM TOWER GARDEN
The Belém gas factory operated in this exact spot until about 1940. With the organization of the “Portuguese World Exhibition” in 1940, the whole Belém area was renovated. Palm trees were planted in this location which was another sign of the Portuguese expansion around the world. If you are interested in the “Portuguese World Exhibition” then don’t miss our article about the “discovery pattern”. In this green space you can also see a monument that honors Gago Coutinho and Sacadura Cabral. These two pilots made the 1st crossing of the Atlantic Ocean in a seaplane.
With the tower garden, the area has become a very pleasant place where you feel like relaxing. It was like that in 1940, it is like that in 2021!
TAGUS RIVER – BELÉM TOWER
The Tower of Belem is on the right bank of the Tagus River in an area where the river meets the ocean. If you are visiting the Torre de Belém, then be sure to take a stroll along the banks of the river. Between the Torre de Belém and the 25 de Abril bridge, there is a wide and extensive promenade that you should walk along on foot and without haste. Along the way, you will find the discovery pattern, the water mirror, the Belém river station, the electricity museum, the MATT Museum, and several esplanades. Sit at one and have a beer (or two!).
I have been living in Belem for 44 years and I have yet to tire of walking this path (on foot or by bike).
BOM SUCESSO FORT (NEXT TO BELEM TOWER)
The fort stands next to the tower of Belém and was built in 1780 for the protection of the port of Lisbon. During the French occupation (Marshal Junot), this military structure had a direct connection to the tower of Belém. The fort was abandoned between 1836 and 1879. During the Overseas War, it was the headquarters of the military postal service. In 1999 it was handed over to the League of Combatants and today houses the Combatant’s museum.
MUSEUM OF THE FIGHTER
It is next to the Combatant’s Museum and inside the Bom sucesso Fort. The museum is run by the League of Combatants and opened its doors in 2003. Here you can see, among others, the following exhibits/exhibitions:
- The combatant of the 20th century (from World War I to the Overseas War).
- History of aviation in the 20th century. Here you will be able to see 500 airplanes (in scale). Some of these planes were main actors in the great battles of the 2nd World War.
- The Trench. This is a 3D exhibit and a life-size representation of a WW1 trench.
The Belem tower is a 10-minute walk from the Jerónimos Monastery. It is a grand monument that was built in the 16th century. In 2016 it was elevated to the status of a National Pantheon. Its construction lasted more than 100 years. In 1983, the Belem tower and the Jeronimos Monastery were classified as a world heritage site by UNESCO. In 2017, it was visited by 1,166,793 tourists.
DISTANCE BETWEEN BELÉM TOWER AND BELÉM CULTURAL CENTER
The cultural center of Belém (CCB) is located between the Belem Tower and the Jerónimos Monastery. It is a 5 to 7 minute walk. Construction began in 1988 and was completed in 1992. The starting point for its construction was the reception, in 1992, of the Portuguese presidency of the European Union. From 1993 it was converted into a cultural center. Nowadays it maintains a huge cultural activity.
SUNSET AT THE BELEM TOWER
Watching the sunset is never tiring, do you agree? Next to the tower of Belém you can see a beautiful sunset. We suggest watching this natural spectacle (free and daily) from a corner on the right side of the bridge.