Tuesday, 8 July 2014

The Tower of Belém

One of the many iconic monuments in Lisbon is this ‘mini-castle’, as Paul called it, on the Tagus River. The first time we came to see it was closed so I went back on a cloudy Sunday to have a look at it from the inside.

The Torre de Belém was built in the 16th century as a part of a defensive belt around Lisbon and had an important part to play during the Age of Discoveries as a fort. It was built in a style that is so typical in Portugal called manueline which got its name from the then ruling king, Manuel I. It is also called ‘late gothic’, the style between the gothic and the renaissance. It is a listed UNESCO World Heritage site and part of the Seven Wonders of Portugal.

There’s a wooden walkway that leads you into the Tower through a drawbridge.

The Tower from the inside.

The terrace of the lower bastion.

The Tower was obviously not built for housing this many visitors and having a one man wide spiral staircase does not make things easy. To help the visitors, the Portuguese came up with an interesting system. On every level there’s a screen that tells you whether you can move up or down the stairs and give you a time frame to do so, its lengths depending on the level you are on. The fun starts when somebody disregards the system and starts moving into the opposite direction that they are supposed to. It was quite entertaining to watch for a while but if you want to visit every level you have will have your patience tested.

There’s a cute rhinoceros depicted under one of the turrets. According to the stories it is a memento to the first rhino set foot in the country in 1513 as a present from India. Soon King Manuel got tired of it and wanted to give it away to the Pope, however the poor animal never made it to Rome but got shipwrecked on the way (please keep a minute silence in memory of the rhino). As the whole story happened around the building of the tower they used it as an element of decoration. It is now so well-worn that if they didn’t tell you you wouldn’t know that it’s rhino but it has its own plaque on the wall and there’s an arrow guiding you to the right window to see it.   

You can find the Torre Belém on Avenida da India. The entry fee is 5 euros for adults but if you go on the first Sunday of the months you can get in for free. If you happen to be there at this time, be prepared for the crowd! You can take the commuting train from Cais do Sodre train station and go three stops or take the (slightly uncomfortable) tram nr. 15 from Rossio Square.

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