In Portugal – Belem

Get on a train at Lisbon’s southern railway station, Cais De Sodre, and just seven minutes later you’ll find yourself in Belem. Once part of the city’s port area, the stretches of wharf have now been transformed into beautiful parklands and yacht moorings, and it’s here that you’ll find some of Portugal’s most fascinating museums.

Dominating the view of Belem is the Jeronimos Monastery which sits just back off the waterside on the main road that leads up into Lisbon a few miles away. Covered in incredible decoration seen in few other places in Europe, this white edifice is breathtaking – originally built for the Hieronymite religious order, the complex now contains some of the museums. The Church of Santa Maria and the Monastery’s cloisters remain however, with the buildings representing the absolute height of religious decoration in the 16th century – blindingly white in bright summer sunlight, the figures and other ornamentation have to be seen to be believed.

Equally dazzling are the two buildings that sit right on the banks of the river – the White Tower of Belem and the Christopher Columbus Monument. Built in a similarly extravagant style to the monastery, and during the same period, the White Tower was built as a fortification to protect the entrance to the river Tagus and the city of Lisbon beyond. While it had a very functional purpose, the architects loaded it with plenty of white froth too – it’s an incredible sight. Much more contemporary (built in 1960), the  Christopher Columbus monument (which sits a few hundred metres along the quayside) was built to commemorate 500 years of Portuguese exploration. In addition to the monument itself there is a vast mosaic that sits before it, showing a large map of the world and the spots where the Portuguese adventurers made their discoveries. Personally I dislike the monument – it has the massive, ponderous look of the Soviet edifices that can be found across Eastern Europe.  It certainly has none of the delicacy of its 16th century neighbours…

Visitors to Belem should also consider the array of museums that can be found here – the marine and archaeological museums in the monastery complex, the Centro Cultural De Belem and Berardo Collection (famous for its modern art) just up the street, the coach museum, the electricity museum (in a converted power station) and the military museum, with its striking lagoon and modern sculpture, under the watchful eye of the two soldiers who constantly stand guard…

If you’re not pushed for time, an alternative way to get to Belem is to use the X15 tram, which leaves the riverfront square at regular intervals. All of the photographs of my daytrip to Belem can be seen here.


  1. Emm says:

    Wow, that really is quite stunning. Sometimes it takes a while to take in such amazing ornamentations like that. I’ve heard of the White Tower of Belem before, it is nice to put it into context. I definitely think a trip to Lisbon (and surrounding areas) is on the cards for next year.
    Emm recently posted..London at Dawn: The Golden Hour

  2. The Londoneer says:

    I’m sure you would enjoy it – six days really wasn’t enough. Just make sure you pack your stout walking boats when you’re visiting the region. Your feet will thank you ;)

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