Just within the Tagus’ waters, you’ll find the Torre de Belém. Although it doesn’t look like one, it is a military building. One would think of it more as a stone-made ship sailing into the river. The battlements are decorated with Manueline style lacework and no side of the structure is the same as the other; each has its own details and ornamentation patterns. The inside is quite austere, with wide, solemn rib vaults, and with artillery hidden here and there protecting the river. Taking into account its bulky structure and its fantasy, it makes for a unique architectural masterpiece. It still stands today, for anyone who wants to visit it, exactly as when it was built, in 1515.
It is inscribed on the Unesco World Heritage List. (Praça do Império. Winter: 10 am – 5 pm; Summer: 10 am – 6 pm. Closed on Mondays, 1 Jan., Easter Sunday, 1 May and 25 Dec. €4. Free admittance every Sunday and bank holiday until 2 pm).
This monument depicts the Portuguese as a whole, reflecting the fact that the whole nation was beckoned by the sea.
This is the most emblematic of the Portuguese monuments from the whole Discoveries era, so much that it has also become a symbol for Portugal. It was built under the command of King Manuel I in order to celebrate the discovery of the maritime route to India, found by the Portuguese (16th century).
The monastery was built right in front of the river, today an ample margin of a hundred meters or so, occupied by a garden, but in the time of construction it was a fluvial beach.
The monastery itself is an elongated building, rhythmically marked by window openings. On the one end it has a church, to the right, a structure with an accumulation of decoration and sculptures, with a prominent belfry dome and two smaller pinnacles.
The south entrance is phenomenal, for its profusion of intricate, dense structures of figures sculpted in stone amongst richly embroidered baldachins, in a complex yet harmonious remarkable piece of work.
The church is a masterpiece of the enthusiastic spirit of Mankind. It has three naves of equal height, which gives it its Renaissance, static character, but everything else is done in the Manueline style. Its fragile-looking colonettes, for instance, are minutely carved and are huge, as if cascading down from an enormous height, giving the space a certain fantasy flair. The whole ceiling is covered by Gothic tracery of rare geometry. The dimensions are breathtaking for their sheer extravagance.
The cloister is one of the most beautiful in the world, not only for its proportions and originality, but also for its strange mixture of lightness and robustness at the same time. It has two floors, both with square floor plans with striped corners, and a rib vault that combines perfectly with a continuous balcony, finely decorated with stone lacework.
Among many other historical personalities, one finds in the building the tombs of Vasco da Gama (the Captain who discovered the maritime route to India), and the poets Luís de Camões and Fernando Pessoa.
It is inscribed on the Unesco World Heritage List. (Praça do Império. Winter: 10 am – 5 pm; Summer: 10 am – 6.30 pm. Closed on Mondays, 1 Jan., Easter Sunday, 1 May and 25 Dec. Free admittance, except for cloisters and dependencies: €6).
Quite near the Palace one finds a Botanical Garden. (Lg da Ajuda. 10 am – 5 pm. Closed on Wednesdays, 1 Jan., Easter Sunday, 1 May and 25 Dec.; €5; Free admittance every Sunday and public holiday until 2 pm).