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Lisbon’s Most Famous Landmark: The Belem Tower

By Natalie Horsley

Posted: 24th November 2014 16:03

By Natalie Horsley

Standing in the middle of the Tagus River, the Belem Tower was built in 1515 to guard the entrance to Lisbon’s harbour.  It also marks the point of departure for many of the voyages of discovery, which accounts for stonework motifs including Our Lady of Safe Homecoming.  She faces the river and was said to protect sailors at sea.  Today, the Belem Tower is counted as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is probably Lisbon’s most famous landmark.

The architectural highlights of the tower include a depiction of a rhinoceros, which is the first Western representation of the exotic animal, based on one offered by an Indian king to the king of Portugal in 1513.  The tower has six Moorish-style turrets, and sixteen cannon holes, through which soldiers would have been responsible for the protection of the city (although today you’re more likely to see tourists peering out).  A small rectangular cloister surrounded by Gothic arches would have provided ventilation from the artillery.  Keep an eye out for the depictions of St. Michael and St. Vincent, on the north facade of the tower, as they often go unnoticed.

Opening hours are 10.00am to 5.30pm (last admission at 5.00pm) between October and April, and from 10.00am to 6.30pm (last admission 6.00pm) from May to September.  The Belem Tower is closed Mondays and 1 January, Easter Sunday, 1 May and 25 December

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