Last updated: 12/15/2020
See all the details to get to know one of Lisbon's main attractions: the historic Torre de Belém. Check out tips, relevant information and what to expect from your visit to the place!
THE TOWER OF BELÉM
Built between 1514 and 1520, the Torre de Belém is known by this name because it is located in the Belém district of Lisbon. In fact, its official name is Torre de São Vicente, in honor of São Vicente de Zaragoza, patron saint of the city of Lisbon. When it was built, the site was a rocky area surrounded by water on all sides. But, it ended up being enveloped by sand over the centuries.
It was built with the mission of being a defense tower for the Tagus River basin, where artillery items were housed. However, over time, it lost this function as new defense methods were developed. Later, the Torre de Belém started to function as a customs registry, telegraph signaling post, lighthouse and even as a place for political prisoners. In 1983, Torre de Belém joined the UNESCO World Heritage List.
MAIN FEATURES OF THE BELÉM TOWER
At 30 meters high, the Torre de Belém is one of the great symbols of architecture developed during the reign of D. Manuel I (with Islamic and oriental influences), although it has undergone several renovations over the centuries. The structure consists of a medieval keep, in Moorish style, and a modern two-level bulwark for artillery firing. There is a terrace, which offers beautiful views, on which there are cylindrical guardhouses.
Under the terrace, the interior is Gothic in style and was the place that served as both an armory and a prison. The tower has 5 floors, divided as follows: Governor's Room, King's Room, Audience Room, Chapel and Terrace.
WHAT IS THE VISIT TO THE BELÉM TOWER
Of all the places we visited in Lisbon, this was the one we faced the longest queue to enter, since only 150 people are admitted at a time to know the attraction. After entering the tower, there were still more lines to go up the stairs to see the floors of the tower. So be prepared for the visit to be long.
Those who book in advance have priority access by a special line (I highly recommend it!) at the entrance, but once inside, you will have to wait in line to access the other floors like everyone else. For this reason, it is highly advisable to arrive as early as possible at Torre de Belém to avoid crowds. Then check out the main highlights of the tower:
1. EXTERIOR OF THE BELÉM TOWER
Take advantage of the “wasted” time in line to admire the beauty of the Tower's exterior. Many people visit the attraction without paying due attention to the outside of this beautiful building. There are a number of interesting architectural details. In the guardhouses there are images of São Miguel, on the right side and the patron saint of Lisbon, São Vicente, on the left. The entrance to the tower is via a wooden drawbridge. There is a large gate and several openings in the entrance ceiling, which were used to fire projectiles in order to protect the place.
After passing through the drawbridge and the main entrance, you reach the interior of a bulwark where the tower's artillery, made up of 17 cannons, was located. The architecture of this bulwark is very interesting, with the sloping floor to facilitate the transport of the cannons and ceilings with Gothic arches, which made it easier for the smoke originating from the cannons to be dissipated more quickly. Underneath the bulwark are some storerooms, which can be accessed by the stairs on the north side. These locations were used as dungeons for imprisonment.
3. TERRACE OF THE BALURTE
Taking the steep staircase to the right of the entrance hall of the bastion, you reach its terrace. There are 6 guardhouses with porthole windows and domes in the shape of buds. In the center of the terrace is the small cloister of the bastion. Take the moment to admire the view of the Tagus River from this terrace.
Look across the river and you'll have an amazing view of the Tower. Note the beautiful balcony on the second floor, all decorated and with many details that show impressive elements of Manueline architecture. In this place there is also a stone image of Nossa Senhora do Bom Sucesso, also known as “Virgem das Grapes”.
4. GOVERNOR'S ROOM
Time to get to know the floors of the Torre de Belém. You will probably see a queue still on the terrace to start the visit. Go up the stairs to the first floor and enter the room where there is a cistern, which had the function of collecting and storing rainwater. The ceiling of this room is also vaulted. The name of this room is a tribute to the position of governor of the Torre de Belém, a position of prestige and royal distinction. The governor of the tower had the function of representing the king, exercising military, administrative and judicial functions. To the left, there is a staircase that gives access to the upper floors.
5. ROOM OF THE KINGS
On the second floor of the Tower is the Sala dos Reis, from where you have access to the balcony overlooking the bulwark's terrace, as we mentioned earlier. The decoration and architecture of this room is very reminiscent of those found in the city. Venice, in Italy. Undoubtedly, it is one of the most interesting places in the Belém Tower. From this space it was possible to observe possible attacks and fire projectiles through the various openings. The living room even houses a fireplace.
6. HEARING ROOM
On the third floor of the Tower is the Audience Room, a room with a checkered floor and a simple fireplace. There are two arched windows facing the river side, through which it was also possible to see possible invasions. In the other salads in the room, there are twin arched windows.
Going up the spiral staircase, you reach the fourth floor of the Tower, where there is another checkered floor room. In this vaulted room there was an oratory, decorated with Manueline symbols (armillary sphere, cross of Christ and royal shield).
8. TOWER TERRACE
Finally, the last steps lead to the top of the tower, where you have a beautiful view of the Tagus River and the Belém district, including attractions such as the Jerónimos Monastery, and lesser-known buildings such as the Capela de S. Jerónimo and the Torre Velha, also known as Torre de S. Sebastião, dating from 1480 and which was part of the defense system of the Tagus River.
ECONOMY TIP: LISBON CARD
For those who want to visit several places in Lisbon, including the Belém Tower, our tip is to purchase the Lisboa Card. The Lisboa Card gives you free entry to several attractions in the city, as well as unlimited public transport. It is possible to buy the card in 3 versions: 24h, 48h or 72h. The train ticket between Lisbon and Sintra is also included in the Lisboa Card, as well as discounts at various shops, tours and attractions. We tested and approved! It is worth remembering that the Lisboa Card does not give priority access to the tower. For that, you need to buy a special ticket.
HOW TO GET TO BELÉM TOWER
Take the opportunity to visit the Belém Tower on the day you are visiting the Belém area (our day 2 of the itinerary Portugal: What to do in Lisbon – 3 days itinerary). To get to Belém from the center, it is possible to take the electric tram 15E or the bus 714 at Praça do Comércio. Other bus options are lines 28, 727, 729 and 751. The trip takes just over 30 minutes.
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- Address: Av. Brasilia, 1400-038 Lisbon, Portugal
- October to April: daily from 10 am to 5:30 pm
- May to September: daily from 10 am to 6:30 pm
- Entrance: €6 – buy here / combined ticket with Jerónimos Monastery €12 / buy skip-the-line ticket in this link / free with Lisbon Card
We thank the visit Lisbon for granting us tickets to visit the Belém Tower and transportation to the site. All opinions in this post were based on our own experiences.
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