Curiosities of the Torre de Belém in Lisbon

It is one of the monuments with which Lisbon is identified. Something understandable when you discover the history of this tower that rises over the same waters of the Tagus River. That story and some curiosities of the Belém Tower is what we are going to tell you next. I'm sure you're interested.

The Tower of Belém and the Jerónimos

Belém Tower - Jule_Berlin

Actually, the Torre de Belém today is part of the great Portuguese capital, but what is now the Belém neighborhood was originally almost another population.

Something not strange, since there is a considerable distance to the Lisbon center, if we have for example the Praça do Comercio as a reference. Even though now access from the heart of the city is very fast thanks to public transport, especially the tram.

By the way, since this tram is taken from the center of Lisbon, take advantage not only to visit the beautiful Belém Tower. A short distance you can visit the Jeronimos Monastery, raised at the same time as the tower.

Y you must also visit the Monument to the Discoveries, the Navy Museum and the sweetest institution in all of Lisbon: Pasteis de Belém.

“Traveling makes you realize that no matter how much you know, there is always more to learn.”

-Nyssa P. Chopra-

The origins of the Belém Tower


The Belém Tower was built between 1516 and 1520. It was built by order of King Manuel I in the Era of Discoveries.

The monarch made this commission to Francisco de Arruda, as an expert in defensive constructions, and Diego de Boitaca, architect of his maximum confidence, since at that time he directed the works of the Jeronimos Monastery, the most splendid work of the Manueline style. A unique artistic style of this moment and that only occurred in Portugal.

It is very curious, because the Manueline style has as characteristic its abundant ornamental profusion, something that perhaps does not fit much with the spirit of a defense tower. As that was originally the Belém Tower, a defensive tower intended to control maritime traffic at the mouth of the Tagus River in the Atlantic Ocean.

Curiosities of the Belém Tower

Now that we know more about its history, let's discover a few curiosities of the Belém Tower. Some may surprise you.

A very ornate tower

Gargoyle of the rhinoceros - Disconcerting World /

As we have already said, this is a Manueline construction and, therefore, very ornate. You can see many sculptural details, from armillary spheres to heraldic shields.

But in the meantime, one stands out: the famous rhinoceros carved on its west facade. This figure evokes a rhinoceros that was given to the Portuguese king and that arrived from India. It was quite an event to see that animal in Europe, and therefore did not hesitate to record this construction.

The old beach of Restelo

Nicholas Courtney

Nowadays, to access the interior of the Belém Tower, one of the most visited monuments in Lisbon and all of Portugal, just cross a walkway. But nevertheless, originally the tower would be completely surrounded by water.

Very close to it would be the old beach of Restelo and a port from which the ships departed to the overseas colonies that once made Portugal a maritime power.

Other uses of the Belém Tower

Belém Tower - Matteo Ceruti

Another of the curiosities of the Belém Tower is the use that has been made of it over time. It is clear that it was born with a defensive vocation, hence its bulwarks and checkpoints where there were cannons. But the tower also went on to fulfill other functions over time.

One of them was to serve as a beacon for sailors, but also it was a tax collection center. And in its lower part, prisoners were locked up, since the 16th century itself.

However, today it no longer has any of those uses, and it is only a monument that must be visited on a must during a trip to Lisbon. And at the end of the day the Belém Tower is a treasure of Portuguese history and from all over the world, since it is a monument listed as a World Heritage Site by Unesco.