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21. Belém Tower | Jerónimos Monastery
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It is probably the most touristic area of Lisbon and there are plenty of reasons for that, starting with the riverside area, which captivates anyone. In Belém, there are monuments and museums worth visiting and perfect parks for a break at any time of the day. The biggest landmarks, classified as UNESCO World Heritage sites, are practically aligned, separated by the railway line: by the river, there is Belém Tower; on the other side, Jerónimos Monastery. They are two trademarks, two postcards of the city and the country. The two buildings, unique in their construction, were ordered by King Manuel I, who reigned between 1495 and 1521, and were the result of a large investment, in a time of exaltation of great overseas achievements, led by Vasco da Gama’s arrival in India. The construction works of the monastery advanced first, between 1501 and 1502 and took several decades to complete (a century, if we want to be more precise). The construction works of Belém Tower took place between 1514 and 1519. Manuel I ordered the construction of Belém Tower, following a defense plan of the Tagus estuary conceived by John II. But the monarch’s purpose was to protect not only the port of Lisbon and the Tagus bar but also Jerónimos Monastery, then under construction.

Suspended in the waters of the Tagus, in the place where Vasco da Gama departed to India, Belém Tower combines two distinct architectural models, highlights the Directorate-General for Cultural Heritage: “The high tower, in the manner of a medieval keep, and the bulwark, a modern military device.” Despite being built 250 meters from the shore, the tower ended up being surrounded by the beach over the centuries, and is now on solid ground. Designed by the architect Francisco de Arruda, the royal arms, the armillary sphere, and the cross of the Order of Christ are the marks of Manuel I’s power that stand out on its exterior. Currently, Belém Tower is open to the public and, like Jerónimos Monastery, is one of the most visited monuments in the country. Belém Monastery is the greatest symbol of Manueline architecture, considered a masterpiece of Portuguese architecture. A unique monument, made of Lioz stone, built to celebrate the discovery of the sea route to India. It was with the money obtained from trade with the East that Manuel I was able to finance the work, which took one hundred years and several master builders to complete. To occupy the Monastery, Manuel I chose the monks of the Order of St. Jerome, who had, among their functions, to pray for the king’s soul and provide spiritual assistance to sailors and navigators who set out to discover other worlds. In 1833, however, this religious community was dissolved, and the monastery was vacated. The church, whose entrance is free, impresses with its detail and magnitude which keeps among others, the tombs of Luís de Camões and Vasco da Gama.A visit to the Monastery, whose cloister and garden surprise those who arrive, can’t be missed.

In the western wing of Jerónimos Monastery, where the former dormitory was located is nowadays the National Archaeology Museum and the Navy Museum.