Architect: Francisco de Arruda
Original name: Torre de Belém (literal translation – Tower of Bethlehem)
Belém Tower is a fort on an island located in the Tagus River. It was built to commemorate the discovery of Vasco da Gama’s sea route to India. This is a stunning architectural monument that is considered the main attraction of Lisbon today. Its construction was carried out by the famous Portuguese architect Francisco de Arruda.
The Belém Tower project was commissioned by King John II, who planned to use it to defend the mouth of the Tagus River and as a solemn gateway to Lisbon. But the ruler died, and the plans remained unfulfilled. Twenty years later, King Manuel I again raised the issue of building military fortifications.
The erection of the tower began on a ledge of basalt rocks located in the river at some distance from the coast; stones were used for construction. As conceived by the architect, it was planned to have five floors, but after that it was decided to limit itself to four floors.
The Belém Tower in Lisbon is the embodiment of the Manueline architectural style. It was widespread during the Renaissance, but today it is almost lost. The walls of the building are decorated with patterns typical of the Manueline style and royal symbols. On them you can see images of animals, knots, ropes, crosses of knightly orders.
There are stone balconies on three sides of the tower. Their main decorative element is the state regalia and the coats of arms of King Manuel I. Above there are watchtowers with a roof made in the form of domes. The tower building is located on a high platform in the form of a hexagon.
Its edge is directed towards the waves of the Tagus River. Belém has a terrace with an openwork balustrade, where a statue of Our Lady and Child is placed in a carved niche. The external design makes the facade of the building elegant and majestic.
In the architectural solutions of the tower, one can notice the influence of oriental architectural motives.
The interior decoration of the Belém Tower in Lisbon is simple and concise. Here you can see items from the era of the Great Geographical Discoveries, in particular, the image of the Virgin Mary in a sea shell, the throne of the 16th century, decorated with finials.
The premises of the tower are spacious and simple in decor. But there are also richly furnished rooms. They exhibit luxurious collections that convey the features of decoration and furniture in the Gothic style. There is a chapel at the top of the tower. From here, a wonderful view of the mouth of the Tagus River and the western part of Lisbon opens up.
Each floor of the tower is of interest to tourists:
- the first is the Governor’s Hall;
- the second is the Hall of Kings with an elliptical ceiling;
- the third is the Audience Hall;
- the fourth is the Capella;
- fifth – Tower Terrace.
At different times, the Belém Tower in Portugal performed various functions: it was a defensive fortress, a prison, a powder warehouse, and a customs office. But it was never used for its intended purpose – as a defensive fortification. During the Napoleonic Wars, the building was almost half destroyed, but in 1845 it was completely reconstructed.
Belém Tower for tourists
This architectural structure is a kind of museum that acquaints visitors with the original architectural styles, unusual interiors and facade design. Within its walls you can find unique monuments – evidence of important geographical discoveries.
Belém Tower is open to the public every day except Mondays. Opening hours in summer – from 10.00 to 18.30, in winter – until 17.00. Entrance fee – 4 euros. You can get to the Belém tower by tram number 15, stop “Largo Princesa”.
From here you need to walk about two hundred meters. You can also take the Cais Do Sodre train to the tower to the Belem stop. Rail transport leaves every 15-20 minutes.
- Initially, the tower had a different name – it bore the name of Saint Vincent, the patron saint of Lisbon.
- To get to the tower, you need to go over a wooden drawbridge.
- In 2007, Belém Tower was recognized as one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal.
- In 1983, the tower was included in the UNESCO list of World Cultural Heritage Sites.