Belem Neighborhood of Lisbon

Today, David and I visited the Lisbon neighborhood of Belem.  It is west of the center of Lisbon.  Belem is the most historical neighborhood as this is where the many Portuguese navigators embarked on their voyages.  It is really interesting to visit a country and delve into the history…whether it is all new or a refresher course.  For me, most often, it is all new.  

One of the very first navigators to embark from Belem was Prince Henry the Navigator.  In 1415, Prince Henry was 21 years old.  He, along with his father, King John 1 and his brothers, successfully attacked the Moslem port of Ceutha in northern Morocco. This success encouraged Prince Henry to further explore the west coast of Africa, territory never before explored.  
Other successful Portuguese navigators were Bartholomeu Dias who is known for rounding the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa.  We all remember Ferdinand Magellan who discovered the world was not flat.  Finally, there was Vasco da Gamas who discovered the sea route to India, paving the way to the Asian lands and colonization by Portugal.  Today, there is an impressive monument to the first navigators called the Discoveries Monument in the park that follows the River Tagus. 

It was during this era of Discovery, with many riches coming into Portugal two of the most impressive sites, the Belem Tower and the Jeronimos Monastery were built.  We visited both sites and they were very impressive but the monastery took my breath away!  I think you, the reader, will agree with me!

This spectacular building was built in 1501 by King Manuel I as a tribute Vasco da Gamas and to give thanks to Our Lady of Bethlehem (Belem in Portuguese). This building was inhabited by the monks of St Jerome whose purpose was to pray for the King’s soul and give guidance to the sailors.  

It is done in the Manueline-style architecture (Portuguese late gothic).  Manueline architecture is a very decorative style of gothic that combines Spanish Plateresque, a very ornamental style of architecture, Italian urban and Flemish architecture.  This late gothic style was the transition to the Renaissance architecture.  I really like it and believe the monastery was my first introduction to it.  

The south portal was built in 1516-1518 and although it is more ornamental than the front entrance, it is considered a side entrance. 

This is a detail of the south portal.  The center figure is Our Lady of Bethlehem.  She is surrounded by other figures of apostles, saints, prophets and church nobles.  

This building is massive and sadly, my pictures do not do it justice.  Just a couple more from the outside before I “take” you inside.

As you can see from my picture, the inside is equally as beautiful. This picture is looking toward the alter.

This picture is looking back toward the entrance with the alter at my back. 

The interior has such a light, airy feel to it despite the size.  The arches give it a graceful feeling.  

Inside were tombs of influential people in Portuguese history.  This is of Luis Vas De Camoes (1524-1580) who was a famous poet.  His masterpiece was The Lusiads that tells of the journey of the famous explorer Vasco da Gama.

Directly across from Camoes tomb is that of Vasco da Gama. The explorer who founded the route to India. Themonastery is sometimes referred to as the “Pepper Monastery” because it was the profit from the spices brought back from India that built this building.  

This last tomb was that of King Manuel I and his second wife, Queen Maria.  The tomb is supported by two elephants.  I am not totally certain but I think that maybe it might be because India was discovered while he was King.

This monastery is considered one of Portugal’s Seven Wonders of the World.  Also, it mentioned on the tour that the waterfront used to come right up to the door of the monastery and the ships were moored there.  Imagine the sight of the tall ships in front of this amazing building…getting blessed by the monks before heading out to explore the world. 

Today, there is a park that separates the monastery from the River Tagus. We walked through this on our way to Belem Tower.  I loved the statues of these horses. 

King John II came up with the plan to fortify the Tagus River with two forts.  It became apparent that these forts did not fully protect the mouth of the river and King John II ordered a stronger fort to be designed and built.  The plans were drawn up but before they came to fruition, the King died. Twenty years late, King Manuel revisited this idea and ordered the tower to be built. Construction began in 1515 and was completed in 1519, just 5 years before the death of King Manuel.  As you can see, it is built in the ornamental Manueline-style architecture. It has a rich history from being a fort to a prison. Today, it is on the UNESCO World Heritage site, along with the Jeronimos Monastery. 

This is the inside of the tower with the cannons that were used as defense. 

This area was once the dungeon and also, where the gun powder was stored as it was the driest part of the tower.  

These pictures are various views of the tower.  

This picture is the balcony from the very top of the tower. 

Looking down onto the platform.  

This is looking to the west and down on the Military Museum in the front.  In the background, is a Scientific Research facility that researches oncology, neurology and gynecology. 

This is looking east toward the center of Lisbon.  It shows the April 25, 1974 bridge.  It was built by the dictator Salazar in the 1960s and when he was overthrown by the carnation revolution, it was renamed the date of the Independence Day. Originally, it was for cars only. Today, it also has trains passing on it.  The tall statue is that of Christ the King.  It is built for peace and the non-involvement of Portugal in World War II.  

After visiting the Tower of Belem, we walked along the park that is on the river edge.  There is the replica of the airplane that was the first to cross the South Atlantic in 1922 to mark the centennial of Brazil’s independence from Portugal. The plane was piloted by two Portuguese naval aviators, Gago Coutinho and Sacadura Cabral.  They had two accidents and required new planes.  So, 3 planes and 79 days later, they landed in Rio de Janeiro (well actually, they ditched into the Guanabara Bay).  Although the flight took 79 days, they were actually flying a total of 62 hours and 26 minutes. They were either very brave or very foolish, but oh, what an adventure!  

I love this picture. It is of the Discoveries Monument and the Royal Caribbean Cruise ship heading out to sea from Lisbon.  If only the original navigators could see our ships today!

This wonderful day was topped off with a quiet dinner at the apartment of wine, bread and cheese. 

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