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Belém Tower, Lisbon, Portugal Top-Rated Tourist Attraction

Belem Tower

Fortification in Lisbon, Portugal

Belém Tower, Lisbon, Portugal Top-Rated Tourist Attraction

Belém Tower, officially St. Vincent's Tower, is a 16th-century fortress in Lisbon that served as the embarkation and disembarkation point for Portuguese explorers and an official gateway to Lisbon. It was built during the height of the Portuguese Renaissance and is a prominent example of the Portuguese Manueline style, but it also incorporates hints of other architectural styles. The structure was built from Lioz limestone and consisted of a bastion and a 30-meter, four-story tower. Since 1983, the tower has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with Jerónimos Monastery. It is often depicted as a symbol of Europe's Age of Discovery and a symbol of Portugal or Lisbon, given its landmark status. It is incorrectly said that the tower was built in the middle of the Tagus and now sits closer to the shore because the river was redirected after the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. In fact, the tower was built on a small island in the Tagus River off the coast of Lisbon.

Belém Tower, Lisbon, Portugal Top-Rated Tourist Attraction

In the late 15th century, King John II built a defense system for the mouth of the Tagus that relied on the fortresses of Cascais and São Sebastião (or Torre Velha) on the south side of the river in Caparica. These forts could not fully protect the mouth of the river and more protection was needed. In his "Chronicle of John II" (Chronica de D. Joao II), published in 1545, author García de Resende confirmed the king's opinion that Lisbon's defenses were inadequate and he insisted on building a fortress. Along the entrance to the Tagus River to supplement existing defences. To this end, he ordered "the building of a strong fortress", but died before any plans could be drawn up. King Manuel I of Portugal reconsidered the proposal twenty years later and ordered the construction of a military fortress at the northern end of the Tagus at Belém. In 1513, Lorenzo Fernandes wrote a letter to his friends stating the king's intention to build a tower near the Restello Velho, determining it to be indispensable.

Belém Tower, Lisbon, Portugal Top-Rated Tourist Attraction

The architecture of Belem Tower

The Belém Tower is located on the north bank of the Tagus River in the civil parish of Santa María de Belém in the municipality of Lisbon, accessible at the western end of Avenida de Brasilia by a small bridge. Close by is Jerónimos Monastery to the east and Fort do Bom Sucesso to the west, while to the north are the Tower Governor's Residence, the old governor's residence of Bom Sucesso Castle and the Chapel of São Jerónimo.

On a basaltic outcropping of rocks belonging to the geological volcanic complex of Lisboa-Mafra, the tower is isolated on the river bank, between the docks of Bom Sousseso and Pedroukos. Although various guides claim that the tower was built in the middle of the Tagus and now sits near the banks after the river was redirected after the 1755 earthquake, they are wrong. The Portuguese Ministry of Culture and the Institute of Architectural Heritage indicate that the tower was built on a small island near the banks of the Tagus opposite the banks of Restelo. As a result of development, the coastline has gradually expanded, with much of the northern bank entering the Tagus towards the south, the tower merging with the river bank over time.

External of Belem Tower

The plan of the building consists of a rectangular tower and an irregular, hexagonal bastion, with extended flanks, projecting south to the river. It is essentially a large articulated vertical space resting on a horizontal stone slab, covered by a masonry enclosure. At the northeast corner of the structure, protected by a defensive wall by bertizans, is a drawbridge decorated with tree designs, decorated with royal arms and decorated with small columns, complemented by armillary spheres. A symbol of Portugal's nautical explorations, the Manueline armillary sphere is displayed at the tower's entrance and was used on the personal banner of King Manuel I to represent Portuguese discoveries during his reign. Decorative carvings, twisted ropes and elegant knots also refer to Portugal's nautical history and are common elements of the Manueline style.

Interior of Belem Tower

The interior of the turret, with a circular staircase at the north end, has two adjoining halls with vaulted ceilings supported by masonry arches, as well as four storage lockers and sanitary facilities. In the ground floor bunker, the floor slopes outward, while the ceilings are supported by masonry pilasters and arched buttresses. Gothic rib vaulting is evident in the casemates, tower rooms and watchtower cupolas of the turret balconies. Peripheral compartments at the ends of the bunker allow individual cannons to occupy their own space, the ceiling is designed with several asymmetrical domes of different heights. Ancillary storerooms were later used as prisons.

Belém Tower, Lisbon, Portugal Top-Rated Tourist Attraction

Additional information of Belém Tower

Location: Lisbon, Portugal

Designer: Francisco de Arruda

Type: Fortification

Material: Limestone (lioz)

Beginning date: c. 1514

Completion date: 1519

Part of: Monastery of the Hieronymites and Tower of Belém in Lisbon

Includes: Belém Tower, Jerónimos Monastery

Criteria: Cultural: iii, vi

Reference: 263bis

Inscription: 1983 (7th Session)

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