February 28, 2020

Belém is a historic area of Lisbon just 6km to the west of the city center along the riverfront is this tranquil and antique district is full of attractions. Belém is significant in the history of Portugal as the point from which many of the great navigators set of on their explorations of the oceans. During the time of the discoveries, Portugal flourished and many monuments were constructed such as the Belém Tower and the Jeronimo monastery. 

The grandeur of 18th century Portugal is also displayed in the opulent interiors of the Ajuda Palace and the Coaches Museum. After the earthquake in 1755 the 17th century Palace had to undergo some repair work but on the whole, the original building withstood the quake as Belém and nearby Ajuda were two areas least affected.  The Royal Family, therefore, relocated out to Belém following the earthquake later to take up permanent residence in the Ajuda National Palace.

Jeronimos Monastery
The Jeronimos Monastery is one of the most striking symbols of the wealth and power of Portugal at the time of the Discoveries.  Built in 1502 to commemorate Vasco de Gama’s voyage to discover India and to give thanks to the Virgin Mary for the success of the voyage.  

Vasco de Gama’s tomb was placed at the entrance inside.  Many other important figures in Portuguese history are entombed in the monastery including writers Luis de Camões and Fernando Pessoa.  The monastery was inhabited by monks from the order of Saint Jerome,  it was their job to give spiritual guidance to sailors. The architecture is a stunning example of the Gothic style so prevalent in Portugal at the time of the discoveries.  

Carved into the stonework in many parts of the cloisters are depictions of the sea and its exploration.  At the entrance to the former refectory, there is a striking vaulted ceiling with networked patterns of stonework and the biblical story of Joseph carved into the walls.


The Belém Tower &  the Discoveries Monument

The Belém Tower was built in 1515 as a protective fortress guarding the entrance to Lisbon’sharborr and it became the starting point for many of the voyages across the oceans. There is a statue of our lady of Safe Homecoming at the front facing the river as a symbol of protection for the sailors. 

The modern Discoveries Monument was built in 1960 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death of Prince Henry the Navigator. The huge stone monument is designed to represent a three sailed ship ready to depart. around the sides are huge statues of important figures in the history of Portugal and many of  her explorers. 

The sheer scale of the monument is almost difficult to capture and only becomes apparent when you stand at the foot of the stone structure. There is an elevator inside that takes you up to a viewing deck for a fantastic view of Belém and its many historical buildings.  Between the Tower and the monument, there is a river esplanade,  a great place to stroll along,  or take a rest in a cafe and view the magnificent buildings, river Tagus and 25 of April bridge.


Parks and Gardens of Belém
One of the attractions of Belém is its many green areas and well-kept gardens. In Belém you will notice green areas in abundance, almost everywhere you turn there is a park or garden. There is a large well-kept garden in front of the Monastery with a large water fountain in the middle, known as the ‘Imperial Garden Plaza’. 

Right next door is the Large Garden of Belém with its open green area, trees, and children’s play areas.  There is also an esplanade with several restaurants offering a wonderful outdoor dining setting. There is another park following known as the Afonso de Alberquerque.

The garden is another well kept and designed garden dedicated to the discoveries and in particular Albuquerque one of the Governors of India, of whom there is a very large imposing statue in the middle.

Also in Belém, you will find the somewhat hidden gem the tropical garden, also known as the Jardim do Ultramar (2nd slide). The garden is situated just behind the main street in Belém, where you find the famous café selling Pastéis de Belém, just a short walk from the Monastery and the tram & bus stops. If you would like to stay in the beautiful Belém check out the Belém apartments .


Pastéis de Belém
Belém has become very well known as the home of the famous Portuguese custard tarts. The custard tarts are known as Pastél de Nata everywhere outside of Belém where created more than 200 years ago by the Catholic nuns in the monastery at Belém. 

The Casa Pastéis de Belém was the first shop to sell the coveted cake in 1837, it said that the shop received the recipe directly from the nuns and is, therefore, the most genuine.  The shop has become famous over the years with locals and tourists alike stopping by to sample the original recipe fresh out of the oven. 

The pastél de nata is usually served with a sprinkling of cinnamon and or icing sugar, many locals also like to accompany the delicacy with a small glass of Ginja (a cherry liquor) or an espresso coffee. 


Travel to and from Belém
Belém is situated by the riverfront to the West of the City about 20-30 minutes from the downtown center by tram. You can catch the Nº15 tram from several locations in the city center such as Praça de Comercio or Cais do Sodré. 

The Nº 15 tram is often one of the iconic old electric tram cars usually crowded and a little noisy but atmospheric nonetheless. also running this route are modern trams, if you’re not in a hurry and a modern tram comes along it probably won’t take too long to wait before one of the old trams comes along.  For a better idea of the neighbourhood check out the Map of Belém.

Parking in Belém
Given that Belém is a little out of the city center, parking is not as difficult as in downtown Lisbon. There are in fact many parking spaces available in a free open-air car park by the main esplanade, although technically free there are often self-appointed parking attendants who direct cars to spaces in hope of a small tip.  It is also possible to find parking on the street in many of the side streets in the area.

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