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A little bit of history
Torre de Belém, or the Belém Tower, is one of the most prominent monuments in Belém, Lisbon. The official name is the Tower of Saint Vincent (Torre de São Vicente), and it was built in the 16th century at the height of the Portuguese Renaissance under the reign of King D. Manuel I.
Once upon a time, the tower stood further in the river Tagus. The landmark was built on a small island close to the shore of Restelo. You still need to enter Torre de Belém by footbridge today as the tower is not connected to the riverbank. The fortification was there to protect Lisbon, together with the fortress in Cascais and the fortress São Sebastião in Caparica. The tower was named Castelo de São Vicente de Belém, after the patron saint of Lisbon.
Throughout the centuries, the tower got upgraded, the walls strengthened, and the rectangular bastion improved. The dungeons turned into prisons until 1830, and the tower’s function changed again into a customs control point to collect tolls. Between 1780 and 1782, the Fort of Bom Successo was built next to the tower, and the battery got connected. The Bom Sucesso Fortress is nowadays a museum you can visit.
The architecture of Torre de Belém
The Belém Tower is a marvellous example of the Portuguese Manueline style. Along with the Jerónimos Monastery further down the road, Torre de Belém has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1983. The stones used to build the tower and the monastery are both the same.
Torre de Belém was designed by architect Francisco de Arruda and construction started in 1516. In 1519 the tower was finished and ready for use. Belém Tower actually consists of two parts; the bastion and the 4-storey tower. Today you can visit both parts. Let’s take a look inside!
The bastion of Belem Tower
You can enter the bastion by footbridge and enjoy a stunning view over the river Tagus from the courtyard. The ground floor of the fortress has space for 17 canons, and on each corner, you’ll spot a bartizan, an overhanging wall-mounted turret. The bartizans are decorated with the cross of the Order of Christ, as King Manuel I was a member of the order.
The bartizans were used as watchtowers, and you still get a fantastic view of the surroundings from inside. The turrets also have images of beasts, such as a rhinoceros. It’s known as the first sculpture of a rhinoceros in Western Europe, and it’s believed to be the one that King Manuel I sent to the pope in 1515.
Torre de Belém
The tower itself consists of 4 floors, and you can visit the building from the inside. The 1st floor contains the Governor’s Hall, and on the 2nd floor, you’ll find a stunning veranda with a loggia. The covered arcade has seven arches with lots of ornaments. On the second floor, you also visit the King’s Room, with a beautiful vaulted ceiling and chequered floor. From the windows, the king could see the ships arrive, and the fireplace kept everyone warm in winter.
On the 3rd floor, you’ll visit the Audience Room, with sill windows and arches. The room on the 4th floor is known as the Chapel. It has a ribbed vaulted ceiling and is architecturally the most complex room of all.
How to get to the Tower of Belém
Getting to Belém is very easy by public transport. Tram 15 leaves from Praça da Figueira and Praça do Comércio to Belém. The tram can get pretty busy, and you might prefer to take the train. The Cascáis train leaves the station at Cais do Sodré and travels to Belém in about 7 minutes. From the station to the tower is a 20-minute walk, but along the way, you can visit the Popular Art Museum and the monument Padrão dos Descobrimentos. If you prefer travelling by bus, you can take lines 728, 729, 751, 113, 144, 149, 714 and 727.
Opening times of Torre de Belém
The Belém Tower is open Tuesdays to Sundays and is closed on Mondays. Visiting hours are between 10 am and 5.30 pm.
The tower is also closed on January 1st, Easter Sunday, May 1st, June 13th and December 25th.
How to get tickets to Belém Tower
The queue to enter Belém Tower can be long! Therefore it’s highly recommended to get your ticket beforehand. One of the easiest ways to enter is by Lisboa Card. You cannot only enter the tower for free but also visit the Jerónimos Monastery for free, you can use public transport for free, and you get many discounts and free entrance tickets to other sights in Lisbon. If you plan to visit the Tower of Belém and the Jerónimos Monastery, you save money already !
If you prefer getting an individual ticket, the entrance fee to Torre de Belém is € 9,00, and combination tickets are also available.
Other things to do in Belém
Don’t leave just yet! Aside from the Tower of Belém, there are many other places to see in this Lisbon district. As mentioned, the Jerónimos Monastery is just across the road and a must-see in Belém. Afterwards, you can enjoy a tasty Pastel the Belém in the authentic bakery Pastéis de Belém. If you’d like to visit a museum, you can see the Berardo Collection, MAAT, the Popular Art Museum, the National Coach Museum, or the Archaeology Museum.
What are you most looking forward to seeing in Belém? If you have the time, it’s recommended to stay a full day in Belém to see multiple sights. After a day of sightseeing, you can take a boat tour on the river Tagus and enjoy the sunset over Lisbon. I hope this guide to the Tower of Belém will come in handy when you visit Lisbon. Enjoy!