Torre de Belém
Tower in Lisbon
The Tower of Belém is a magnificent example of architectural beauty and delicate ornamentation. Its quadrangular shape and polygon bulwark, reminiscent of medieval castles, provide a formidable and imposing bastion to defend the entrance to the Tagus. Built by Francisco de Arruda between 1514 and 1521, the tower was ordered by King Manuel I (1495-1521) and designed to combine firepower with the St Sebastian tower on the other bank of the river.
Situated on a basalt island close to the right bank of the Tagus, the Tower of Belém was initially built to withstand heavy bombardment from out at sea. The watch posts, located on each corner, demonstrate the influence of Moroccan fortifications, while the surrounding stone layouts, heraldic designs, and even the famous rhinoceros – the first stone statue of the animal in Europe – embody the Manueline style.
The tower’s most highly decorated side is the south-facing narrow balcony, adorned with a sculptured image of the Virgin with Child dating back to the 18th century, forming the prow of the tower. The interior is worth visiting, especially to reach the top floor, which offers breathtaking views of the Tagus estuary and the western side of a city that is still able to evoke the Era of Discovery in Portuguese history.
Despite its initial purpose as a defensive structure, the Tower of Belém is now recognized as a true gem of Portuguese architecture. In 1983, it was classified as a World Heritage site by UNESCO. Although the river’s gradual change in course has caused the tower to be almost swallowed up by the bank, it remains a magnificent example of architectural and historical significance.
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Visiting Torre de Belém
10am-6.30pm Tue-Sun May-Sep, to 5.30pm Oct-Apr
adult/child €6/3, free Sun until 2pm for Portuguese citizens/residents only