Lisbon of discoveries

Approximately 11 km from the center of Lisbon, we find Belém, a riverside area. It is a bit outside the capital, yet it is unforgettable, since it provides some of the most important attractions of the city. In my view, the best thing to do is to devote an entire day to Belém, but if you do not have the time, at least spend a whole morning or afternoon there.

The Portuguese Discoveries

In the distant year of 1415, the Portuguese conquered Ceuta (in North Africa), thus launching their imperial expansion. The Portuguese wanted to amass new territories. This period of colonization lasted several years, with some countries gaining their independence from Portugal already in the 20th century.

During the Age of Discovery, the fleet of the well-known Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama sailed from Belém towards India, where they arrived ten months later. The sea route to India had been discovered, which revolutionized the vision of the world at that time. Belém was quite probably the starting point of Vasco da Gama.

The main attractions that you will visit in this riverside zone are deeply associated with such historical period.


At the end of this article see the map with the identification of the places that I recommend. You can save and use 😉

 Monastery of Jerónimos

In the place where we today find the Monastery of Jerónimos , a tiny chapel stood once. It was called Santa Maria de Belém.

A few years after the beginning of the Discoveries, Manuel I became King of Portugal and ordered the construction of the Jerónimos Monastery. The endeavor began in 1501 and lasted for about a century, being financed by the revenue of the trade established with the new Portuguese colonies.

The building is grandiose, with its facade having more than 300 meters… It was classified as a World Heritage Site in 1983. The facades, the church and the cloisters are its paramount highlights.

Monastery of Jerónimos, Portugal
Monastery of Jerónimos
South Gate of Monastery of Jerónimos, Portugal
South Gate of Monastery of Jerónimos
Monastery of Jerónimos interior, Portugal
Monastery of Jerónimos interior

Tower of (São Vicente) Belém

This is the most representative monument of the period of Portuguese expansion. When the Tower was built in 1515, it was completely surrounded by water. As time went by, the beach of Belém grew in extension, as we can see today.

John II was the one who planned the Tower’s edification as a stronghold of the Tagus estuary, but D. Manuel I (the King who succeeded him) was the one who built it. The Tower, which was designated as St. Vincent in honor of Lisbon’s patron saint, was edified where the great ship used to be anchored.

Over the years, this building had other functions, such as customs, a telegraph, a lighthouse and a political prison.

Tower of (São Vicente) Belém, Portugal
Tower of (São Vicente) Belém
Tower of (São Vicente) Belém wooden access bridge, Portugal
Tower of (São Vicente) Belém wooden access bridge
Tower of (São Vicente) Belém detail, Portugal
Tower of (São Vicente) Belém detail

Discoveries monument

Any place in front of the Jerónimos Monastery was once a beach, where the ships were supplied with water. Until 1938, when this spot was chosen to hold the Portuguese World Exhibition and, for that, a massive change in western Lisbon had to be carried out.

Within the Exhibition’s scope, several structures were built, with Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries) being the ex-libris. It has the shape of a caravel and the walls symbolize the ship sails. Originally, it was made of iron and cement (a temporary structure), but, after a few years, the monument was reedified in concrete and rose-tinted Leiria stone masonry as a coating.

The sculptural composition with 33 figures of the Portuguese discoveries must be highlighted. The sculpture that stands out more prominently is the one of the Prince Henry the Navigator, measuring nine meters in height.

Discoveries monument, Portugal
Discoveries monument
One side of the sculpture with 33 figures in the Tower of Belém, Portugal
One side of the sculpture with 33 figures in the Tower of Belém

In Belém there are many to see (without being under the Discoveries). There is the National Museum of Coches, Belém Palace, Planetarium, the Electricity Museum and the new MAAT or the wonderful and more than famous Pastéis de Belém.