The Belem Tower, the Emblem of Lisbon
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The Belem Tower, the Emblem of Lisbon

This elegant Manueline tower with an extraordinary Gothic and Moorish decoration became the symbol of the expansion of Portugal and the most emblematic monument of Lisbon. From here the seafarers set sail during the Age of Discoveries. The vista from the top is marvellous. The edifice was listed a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1983.

This elegant Manueline tower was built between 1515 and 1521 to defend the mouth of the Tagus River and the Monastery of the Jeronimos. If we compare the location of the river at the time of the earthquake of 1755, the tower is now on a beach. It was once located at 200 meters from the shore and was an embarking point for the seafarers and explorers setting sail during the Age of Discoveries. It thus became the symbol of the expansion of Portugal and the most emblematic monument of Lisbon.

King Joao II planned a defensive network for the harbour and city, consisting of two forts on the right bank of the Tagus (Belem and Cascais) and another one on the left bank (Trafaria). Cascais and Trafaria were built under his reign, but the works in Belem were terminated only twenty years after his death. Manuel I, his successor,  entrusted architect Francisco de Arruda with the conception of the tower. The structure of the fortlet is Romanesque and Gothic, but its Arabist ornamentation gives the whole a very attractive aspect. One enters the edifice, consisting of a square tower and an hexagonal platform, after having crossed a drawbridge through an access door with a semi-circular arch and the coats of arms of Manuel I flanked by two armillary spheres. 

The outside of the tower which has five storeys, combines the purest Manueline elements: stones imitating ropes, maritime decorations, armillary spheres as well as windows and balconies inspired from Venice, Moorish watch-towers and crenellation with the Cross of the Order of the Christ. There are eighteen openings in the walls covering the cardinal points. On the ground floor can be found a Gothic room that was once used as a weapons storage and equally as a jail. It is impressive to observe on the soil the openings through which the convicts were dropped into generally flooded pits.

Through a narrow spiral staircase, it is possible to reach the various storeys. Through the first floor, one accesses the Governor's Room and the terrace of the hexagonal platform. It is massive and has six cylindrical look-out turrets in the corners. They are crowned with cupolas inspired from the minaret of the Kutubiyya in Marrakech (Morocco). In the centre of the terrace, a statue of the Virgin of the Happy Return with a baldachin, looks towards the sea, as a symbol of protection for the sailor men leaving for far countries. On the second floor is found the Kings Room, with a finely carved window. On the third floor the Audience Room and on the fourth floor, the exit to the upper terrace where the vista on the Atlantic Ocean is breathtaking. 

The Belem Tower was listed an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. 

The Belem Tower, Lisbon, Portugal.

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The manueline decoration, Belem Tower, Lisbon.

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The Belem Tower, Lisbon.

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Loggia at the Belem Tower, Lisbon.

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Watchtower at the Belem Tower, Lisbon.

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View from the second floor turret.

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