While we were separated from Elly and Dan for the day, we decided we needed to explore Belem, on of the “Freguesias” (civil parish) of Lisbon. Originally we wanted to take the historical tram to get there, but the insane quantity of tourists and the long wait between trams forced us to take the normal bus to get there.
We went straight to eat at one local eatery. The food is cheap, but not amazing. We got to try one of Portugal’s native beers “Super Bock.
We walked towards the main sights of the city, passing through many national and governmental buildings protected by police with swords!
The most famous “Pasteis de Belem” shop is here (go figure), the line is insane but we couldn’t come here without trying them.
The cost a little over 1 Euro.
We took some to go for Elly and Dan to try, as a consolation price for missing this amazing Belem sightseeing day.
Our first stop was at the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (Jeronimos Monastery). The Jeronimos Monastery is the most impressive symbol of Portugal’s power and wealth during the Age of Discovery. King Manuel I built it in 1502 on the site of a hermitage founded by Prince Henry the Navigator, where Vasco da Gama and his crew spent their last night in Portugal in prayer before leaving for India.
It was classified a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with the nearby Tower of Belém, in 1983.
It was built to commemorate Vasco Da Gama’s voyage and to give thanks to the Virgin Mary for its success. Vasco da Gama’s tomb was placed inside by the entrance, as was the tomb of poet Luis de Camões, author of the epic The Lusiads in which he glorifies the triumphs of Da Gama and his compatriots.
The monastery was populated by monks of the Order of Saint Jerome (Hieronymites), whose spiritual job was to give guidance to sailors and pray for the king’s soul.
The cloisters are magnificent, each column differently carved with coils of rope, sea monsters, coral, and other sea motifs evocative of that time of world exploration at sea.
On 13 December 2007, the Treaty of Lisbon was signed at the monastery, laying down the basis for the reform of the European Union.
After touring the monastery, we walked towards the water for the Monument of The Discoveries. This is located along the river where ships departed to explore and trade with India and Orient, the monument celebrates the Portuguese Age of Discovery (or Age of Exploration) during the 15th and 16th centuries.
Unfortunately, the monument was being remodeled so we couldn’t really see it.
Here is a photo I took from google to show you how it looks:
The most iconic building around here is the Tower of Belem. The Torre de Belem is a small fort that was constructed in the centre of the Tejo Estuary to guard Lisbon from seafaring raiders. For such a trivial role the fort was lavished with beautiful and intricate details that include North African Moorish styled watchtowers, shield shaped battlements and the first European stone carving of a Rhinoceros.
The Tower of Belem was constructed as part of a line of defenses to protect Lisbon’s early harbor and was positioned in the middle of the Rio Tejo (River Tagus) on a small outcrop of rocks which also proved to be hazardous to shipping.
The Torre de Belem was completed in 1521 and was much more than a defensive position for the sailors who crossed the Atlantic or rounded the Cape of Good Hope to India.
To the western edge of Belem is the visually striking war memorial: The Monumento Combatentes Ultramar memorial is dedicated to soldiers of the Portuguese army who died during the Overseas War of 1961 to 1974.
We were lucky to be there when the changing of the guard was starting. So we stayed to enjoy the nice ceremony.
The Overseas War (Combatentes Ultramar) was a dark period in Portugal’s modern history that ultimately resulted in the overthrow of the Salazar dictatorship but the toll on Lisbon was extremely high as many of the soldiers’ families originated from the capital. The Overseas War took the lives of over 9,000 soldiers and lasted between 1961 and 1974 as Portugal desperately tried to retain its African colonies. We were lucky to see one of the artists re-carving the rock to maintain the readability.
We headed back to the center of Lisbon. We walked back through the famous Rua de Augusta, which was built to commemorate the city’s reconstruction after the 1755 earthquake.
Comercio Square opens onto Rua Augusta through the triumphal arch. This is a lively pedestrian street with mosaic pavements, outdoor cafes, international shops, and the occasional street artist and peddler.
We reached the famous Elevator De Santa Justa, this is a 19th century lift that transports passengers up the steep hill from the Baixa district to the Largo do Carmo. The lift dates from an era when wrought-iron was both a construction material and art form, and the structure is adorned with glorious neo-gothic arches and geometric patterns, while inside two sumptuous polished wood carriages whisk passengers up in style.
The line to use the elevator was enormous, so we walked the steep hill until we reached the Barrio Alto viewpoint where we enjoyed the sunset.
Bairro Alto is not much to see by day but as the sun sets, the numerous small bars open and the partying continues late into the night.
After walking around for what felt like hours, we decided to eat at an Argentinian steakhouse. It was spectacular! and with Portugal’s food prices this meal was very affordable.
We took the historical tram down to where our hotel was located to finish the night! Tomorrow we head out to the town of Sintra!