On your way back be sure visit Pastéis de Belém for some delicious, traditional Portuguese pastries
Built in 1521 to stand watch over the Tagus River, the pearly Belém Tower was the last glimpse of Portugal that many vessels saw as they set off on their voyages during the ‘Age of Discovery’. Indeed, for many of them it would be the last bit of Portugal they ever saw. As such, it encapsulates the daring spirit of the age and its adventures into the unknown.
More Than Meets the Eye
The tower has a six-sided base, with Moorish style turrets at each corner when batteries of canons were placed. However, for a fortress, the tower has an unusually fine exterior. It was built in Manueline style with stonework that incorporates motifs of the Discoveries and the maritime tradition. It bears, for example, carvings of exotic creatures, including what may have been the first rhinoceros depicted in Europe.
The tower is now a world heritage site, along with the nearby Jerónimos Monastery. UNESCO believe the tower epitomises a certain dialogue between cultures. For example, the cross of the Knights of Christ repeats all over the parapets of the fortress, while the flanking towers are inspired by Islamic architecture. As such, the tower exemplifies the Age of Discovery and the mingling - or appropriation - of cultures that it initiated.
The tower is really best viewed from the banks of the Tagus River, since the Manueline stone detail covers the exterior, whereas the interior is a little sparse. That said, the upper floors of the tower contain the royal residences, which feature a beautiful Italianate loggia with sculpted columns and a number of balconies with exquisite stone work. On top of the upper floor is another terrace, with beautiful views over Belém and the Tagus River.
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