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Belém: A Step Back in Time to the Age of Discovery

The following blog post was written with the assistance of ChatGPT

As a day trip from Lisbon, we visited nearby municipality of Belém. It is located on the western side of the city and is home to several iconic landmarks. This post will feature the Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument of the Discoveries), the Tower of Belém, and the Jerónimos Monastery.

Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument of the Discoveries)

The Padrão dos Descobrimentos was erected in 1960 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death of Prince Henry the Navigator, who is widely regarded as the patron of the Portuguese Age of Discovery. The monument is a striking representation of the spirit of exploration and adventure that characterized this era of Portuguese history.

The Padrão dos Descobrimentos is shaped like a ship’s bow, pointing towards the sea, and is adorned with statues of important figures from Portugal’s Age of Discovery, including Prince Henry the Navigator, Vasco da Gama, and Ferdinand Magellan. The monument also features intricate carvings and reliefs that depict scenes from Portugal’s maritime history and its voyages of discovery.

Tower of Belém

The Tower of Belém is a 16th-century fortification built to protect the harbour and to commemorate Portugal’s Age of Discovery and is now considered one of the most important examples of Manueline architecture, which is characterized by the use of intricate carvings and decorative elements, including armillary spheres, and ropes and knots, all of which are symbols of Portugal’s maritime heritage. The tower is also adorned with battlements that once housed weapons to defend the harbour.

Today, the Tower of Belém is a museum that showcases Portugal’s maritime history and the discoveries of its explorers. It is also a UNESCO Wolrd Heritage Site.

Despite going during the low tourist season, it was still almost a two-hour wait to get inside the tower. It’s not so large inside, and so they must control the traffic. The inside is not as beautiful as the outside since the ornate decorations are on the outside as opposed to the inside. The stone rooms are otherwise rather plain. Knowing what I know now, I don’t think it’s worth the wait to go inside.

Jerónimos Monastery

Another notable landmark in Belém is the Jerónimos Monastery, a stunning Manueline-style building that was constructed in the 16th century to commemorate the voyages of discovery of Portuguese explorers. The monastery is considered one of the finest examples of Manueline architecture and is now a museum that showcases the history of Portugal and its explorers.

Knowing what I know now, I would have much rather visited the monastery as opposed to the Tower of Belém.

Pastéis de Belém

Belém is also famous for its gastronomic culture and is known for its traditional Pastéis de Belém. They pretty much look exactly the same to Pastéis de Nata. They both have a delicate, flaky texture with rich, sweet filling. They are a traditional treat that originated in the Belém neighborhood of Lisbon, Portugal and have been enjoyed by locals and visitors alike for over 200 years.

They’re small, round pastries that are filled with a creamy custard-like filling made from eggs, sugar, cinnamon, and lemon zest. The pastry dough is crisp and flaky, and it is usually sprinkled with cinnamon and powdered sugar before serving.

More photos of Belém here

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