West of downtown Lisbon, along the shores of the famed Tagus River, in an area of town called Belém, lies even more wonderment. Three sites in particular bear witnessing, all three of which are mentioned briefly in this video by UNESCO.
Followers of of Saint Jerome, known as Hieronymites, himself an ardent follower of Saint Augustine of Hippo (a Punic Amazigh (Berber), I might add), established a monastery in Lisbon around 1500 and it’s one of the more beautiful buildings in town. In 1983, along with nearby Belém Tower, it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site because it is “one of the most prominent examples of the Portuguese Late Gothic Manueline style of architecture in Lisbon.” (Wikipedia). Within the walls, the austere lifestyle was amply supplemented by ornate decoration at every turn. What the hermetic order did without was certainly eased by the beauty that surrounded them. The vast cathedral is gargantuan. I could almost hear the echo of the priestly discourse in my imagination.
On the waterfront, across from the Monastery, sits Balém Tower, a medieval-style defense tower situated to protect the rich estuarial area of the Tagus River and the Lisbon ports. At sea level, there is a small prison for keeping captives. The next level up is made up mostly of defensive canon installations. The tower itself served as both living quarters, lookout stations, and additional artillery stations. Much like the monastery build around the same period, there is no lack of ornament. The entire tower is intricately detailed.
Padrão dos Descobrimentos
Just east of the tower, headed back toward downtown Lisbon, is the Padrão dos Descobrimentos, or Monument to the Discoveries. Built in 1960 to celebrate the nation’s unparalleled exploratory achievements, its unveiling was accompanied by 32 vessels from 14 different nations. At the front of the line of explorers depicted on the monument is Henry the Navigator followed by others such as Vasco da Gama, Ferdinand Magellan, and Bartholomew Dias. I opted not to go inside. It was a bit expensive, I thought, to simply go up in a tower, though on reflection, a view of the entire monastery and the expansive waterfront might have been nice. Maybe it was the rainy weather that ultimately dissuaded me. Another time, perhaps.
Heck, even their maritime traffic control tower is super fancy. Portugal is mighty proud of its seagoing history and rightly so. For such a tiny country, it changed the face of the globe through its exploration by leading, and challenging other countries to undertake similar voyages of discovery. Of course, who could foresee centuries of imperialism and mass enslavement, but that’s a topic for another time.
Below are some more photos of the trip.
Also published on Medium.