Belem Tower is synonymous with Lisbon and Portugal. If you have browsed pictures of Lisbon you would have seen this 15th Century tower that sits on the bank of the Tagus River,
Attractions, museums, monasteries and defensive towers adorn the Lisbon neighbourhood of Belem. Belem In Portuguese is known as the civil parish of Santa Maria de Belem. Belem is a popular place to spend a day when in Lisbon. Belem is accessible on an iconic Lisbon tram. You may be lucky and get the heritage style tram or you may get the modern trams that now work the lines in Lisbon. The Lisbon tram 15 can be caught from The Praça da Figueira Square or Comercio Square on the River Tagus. The tram at Comercio picks you up from in the shadow of Arc Rue Augusta, the tram at Praca da Figueira is looked on by Castelo St Goerge. On your way to Praca da Figueira don’t forget to check out Sao Domingos an amazing Church that has survived earthquakes, floods and fires.
Comercio Square is my favourite square in all of Europe. The size of the square is huge, the statue of the King in the centre dominates your line of sight, the Arc is like an old town gate welcoming you to Lisbon and the colourful buildings are absolutely radiant in the Portuguese sun. I spent a few summer mornings in Comercio Square. I watched the sun rise from the Tagus River as Lison woke to another day. You can feel like the only person in the city if you get down to the river early in the morning. Visiting Belem is one of the amazing things to do in Lisbon
Ok, let us get back to the article at hand! What can I say, Comercio Square is a favourite of mine! Belem is 25 minutes away on the tram 15. Our kids loved the tram. The Kids found a seat and as our classic Lisbon tram rattled along they gazed at the buildings, bridges and the river that passes by on the way to Belem. Try and catch an early tram to avoid the crowds especially if you are visiting in the summer. Get off the tram when you reach Monastery Jeronimos. A short walk of 15 minutes is required to get to Belem Tower. On your way, you will pass the Discoveries Monument. This unique monument pays homage to important historical figures in Portugals Age of Discovery.
It features King Manuel I carrying an armillary sphere, poet Camões holding his book of poems, Vasco da Gama, Magellan, Cabral, other notable Portuguese explorers, crusaders, monks, map makers are all lined up behind Henry The Navigator. The monument was constructed in 1960. Discoveries Monument was constructed to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death of Prince Henry the Navigator. As you walk you will come across many ice cream stands on your way. The day we went to Belem it was 38 degrees and roasting. We stopped for ice cream many times that day. The kids thought they found a sugar utopia on the Tagus River!
What you don’t want to see when arriving at Belem is a massive line. There is no shade whatsoever and on a hot day, this would be very hard for anyone having to stand in it for a long time. Lucky we already had tickets that we had purchased at Monastery Jeronimos, so we were able to walk past a line of 100 or more people and pretty much go straight in. Our children would not have handled waiting for an hour in 38-degree heat. As a matter of fact, we did Jeronimos Monastery and Belem Tower in the one day. We were able to buy a dual ticket when entering The Monastery for Belem Tower as well and it was extremely lucky we did!
Belem Tower looms large as you approach
Construction of Belem Tower started in 1516. 763 blocks and 504 stones were delivered for its construction. The King decided that the Tagus River needed more defences to hopefully stop any attackers from reaching Lisbon proper. Originally the Tower sat just off the river bank on a small island, The land has since been reclaimed by the rising sea waters. The Tower has been used as many things throughout its years.
At one stage it was a jail for political prisoners, it served as a storehouse and was basically a toll booth for boats entering the Tagus. Belem Towers one major engagement in a conflict was with the Spanish. After 2 hours of fighting, the Tower surrendered.
We explored the floors of the tower. The bottom floor or basement area you can still see niches that cannons were pointed out of. A few cannons are still on display. Our girls took delight sitting on the cannon and playing with them. As you make your way up each level there were different displays of memorabilia and artefacts about the Tower on each floor.
The stairwell is so small that there is a timer system much like traffic lights. This system lets traffic go one way only, either up or down at a time. Our kids thought this was funny and raced up and down the stairs whenever the lights would change. The views from the different levels were amazing. Great pictures can be taken from the Loggia (balcony on the second floor) and the bastions that look out on the river and the bank area. The inner cloister of Belem Tower is very gothic in design with spires and carvings of biblical figures.
Belem Tower became a UNESCO world heritage site in 1983 becoming the 263rd World Heritage site. There is a nice cafe just on the bank near the tower. We sat there had some drinks and food in the shade of some big trees. It was a great place to relax and cool down while admiring this UNESCO site a little longer from the outside.
Make sure you grab some of the world famous Belem custard tarts. The famous patisserie at Belem is located opposite the tram stop near Monastery Jeronimos. Belem is certainly one of our 5 things not to miss in Lisbon.
A full-time worker in Disability support and part time traveller when time, money and kids schooling allow.
Next up for Wyld Family Travel is 10 weeks in Europe from November 2016 till January 2017. We will be visiting Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Germany, France, Poland, Iceland, Denmark, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia
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