Belem is Lisbon’s historical area, home of the Torre, Lisbon’s very symbol, Jeronimos Monastery, burial site of Vasco da Gama, as well as the Presidential Palace and a number of museums.
Somewhat removed from central Lisbon and beyond the impressive 25 de Abril Bridge, the Golden Gate of Lisbon, the area spreads out alongside the bank of river Tagus.
The historical significance of Belem has roots in Portugal’s glorious days, when explorers would embark on their daring voyages of discovery from the very spot.
First stop, Jeronimos Monastery, an impressive example of what, as I learned today, is the Manueline style of architecture. The cloisters, in particular, are truly spectacular.
Dating from the very beginning of the 1500s and built over an older monastery serving navigators in the age of exploration, it commemorates Vasco da Gama’s successful voyage to India. His tomb can be found on the side of the entrance, all solemn yet ornate.
The motif echoes themes of navigation, but the sarcophagus itself rests on depictions of lions!
The next notable historical building in Belem, the Tower of Belem, has come to symbolise Lisbon and Portugal itself. A UNESCO heritage site, the tower was built in 1515 as fortifications to the port. Back in the day, it was the last sight of dry land for sailors heading into the seas. Beautifully ornate in the same Manueline style, it now provides some stunning views of the Targus, Belem, and Lisbon, and offers tourists a brief glimpse into what was once the hay day of the Portuguese maritime empire.