Belém, Lisbon


Belém lies on the bank of the Tagus on the western edge of Lisbon. Its historically important buildings document the most important epoch of Portuguese history. The name "Belém" is a typically Portuguese shortening of "Bethlehem". The village, which was independent until 1885, suffered very little from the effects of the earthquake of 1775; thus its historic buildings are amongst the oldest in the Portuguese capital.

The origins of Belém's importance lie in the earlier harbor of Restelo. The harbor served as the departure point for the voyages of discovery undertaken by Portuguese sailors. They also returned here after their voyages with their booty from far off lands. The direct combination of political and religious interests in large-scale ocean navigation is clearly recognizable in Belém.

Address: Praça do Império, 1400-206 Lisboa, Portugal

Museum of Ancient Art

April 25 Bridge

April 25 BridgeApril 25 Bridge
After the Tagus has expanded into the 13km/8mi wide lake like "Mar da Palha" (Straw Sea) about 30km/18.5mi from its estuary into the Atlantic, it flows once again just before its mouth through a river basin only about 2km/1.25mi wide, which immediately afterwards opens out funnel like into the Atlantic. This natural condition made it possible to build a bridge at the narrowest point, shortly before the Tagus enters the Atlantic and thus to provide a traffic link for the south of Portugal to the capital city. Until 1966 the Tagus could only be crossed 30km/18.5mi north of Lisbon via a bridge at Vila Franca de Xira or by ferry. The building of the bridge also made a direct link between the capital and the river bank lying opposite it - once the bridge was opened the number of inhabitants living on this side of the river rose dramatically.
The construction of the steel and concrete bridge was based on the plans of an American firm. Its total length measures almost 2.3km/1,5mi, the height of the carriageway about 70m/230ft, the foundations 82m/269ft below water level. The two pylons each measure 190m/623.5ft tall, the distance between the pillars a good 1,000m/3,282ft. The bridge was officially opened on August sixth 1966 with the name Ponte de Salazar; after the end of the dictatorship it was renamed Ponte 25 de Abril in memory of the revolution. The bridge offers a very impressive view of the whole of Lisbon and across to the west over Belém to the Atlantic.
Since its opening the ever increasing amount of traffic using the bridge has long exhausted its capacity. In particular, on summer Sundays and after bank holidays kilometer long queues build up on both sides of the bridge and even daily commuter traffic overloads it. The construction of a fifth lane, which can be opened either in a north-south or a south-north direction according to need, has been of only limited help. For years discussions have been held to try to solve the traffic problem. However, it was not until 1995 that a start was made on the construction of a second bridge, the Ponte Vasco de Gama, which will span the Tagus east of the city center and should be completed by 1998. The 17km/10.5mi long bridge will have six traffic lanes and will be the longest bridge in the world.

Hieronymite Convent

The Hieronymite Convent is located in Belém and is among the most famous attractions in the country. It was built in the 16th C on the site of a former chapel, long associated with naval expeditions.

National Museum of Archeology

The dormitory was originally housed in part of the unfinished 182m/597ft long wing of the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, which adjoins the Igreja de Santa Maria. In 1834, after the dissolution of the convent, the Casa Pia, an orphanage for about 800 children, was set up here. Restoration and partial renewal of this part was completed at the end of the 19th C. and today the National Museum of Archeology and Ethnology (founded in 1893), which was reopened in 1990 after several years of extensive reorganization, is located here.
The museum contains a collection of archeological finds. Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age and Roman tools are displayed and explained (in Portuguese) and arranged according to their epoch. A film introduces Portuguese sites where finds have been made. The museum also contains a separate exhibition of jewelry dating from 20-150 A.D., which has been found in Portugal.
Official site:
Address: Praça do Império, 1400-206 Lisboa, Portugal

Maritime Museum

The Maritime Museum is housed in the western part of the former convent wing of the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos as well as in the modern extension opposite. Luis I had the museum built in 1863 and it moved into its current accommodation in 1962. As the collection was started quite late most of the exhibits here are model ships and not originals. Portugal's military and colonial history until the 20th C. is documented by means of historical paintings, original nautical charts, navigational aids, weapons, portraits and busts of famous people. In addition are exhibited replicas of so called padroes, round stone pillars with the Cross of the Knights of Christ or an armillary sphere, which the Portuguese placed everywhere they landed on their voyages of discovery mainly along the African coast. Of interest are some model ships from river voyages and fishing as well as authentic rooms from the royal yacht "Améllia".
Original 18th C. and 19th C. galleys can be seen in the new part of the museum, including those commissioned by Joao V, Miguel I and Maria I. Also exhibited here is the seaplane "Santa Clara", painted with crosses of the Knights of Christ, which crossed the Atlantic from Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro in 1922.
Address: Praça do Império - Belém, 1400-206 Lisboa, P-1400 Lisbon, Portugal

Calouste Gulbenkian Planetarium

Between the west wing of the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos and the modern extension of the Maritime Museum stands the Calouste Gulbenkian Planetarium. It was built in 1964 according to the plans of the architect Frederico George, who was also responsible two years before for the extension of the Maritime Museum (the presentations given at 5pm are also in English and French).
Address: Praça do Império, Portugal

Praça Afonso de Albuquerque

The Praça Afonso de Albuquerque has been laid out as a geometric park. A Neo Manueline pillar has been placed in the center, bearing a 4m/13ft tall bronze statue of Afonso de Albuquerque. Scenes from his life are depicted on the plinth.
Afonso de Albuquerque (1453-1515) took part in the conquest of important trading centers for Portugal and was named as the first Portuguese viceroy of India in 1509. There he bore the significant nickname "Leao dom Mares" (Lion of the Sea). In his "Lucíados", Camoes called him "Albuquerque the Terrible".

Palácio de Belém

The Palácio de Belém, the current seat of office of the president, extends along the north side of the Praça Afonso de Albuquerque.
Mário Soares, the current president, gave up his flat in the city for the dwelling in Belém. The palace - often called the Palácio Cor de Rosa because of its pink exterior - was founded in 1559. It was renovated several times during the 17th C. and 18th C. Joáo V, who had purchased the palace in 1726 from the Count of Aveiro, had considerable alterations made and planted a large garden behind the palace.
The present building is the result of renovation carried out in 1886. During the earthquake on November first 1755, José I and his family stayed in the Palácio de Belém and not in the royal palace at Terreiro do Paço, which was completely destroyed.
Address: Praça Afonso de Albuquerque, Portugal

National Coach Museum

In 1726 Joao V had a riding school built on the east side of the Palácio de Belém within which the Museu Nacional dos Coches was set up in 1902. Initiated by Queen Amélia and Colonel Alfredo d'Albuquerque a collection of former royal coaches and ceremonial carriages was assembled. These coaches dating from the 16th-19th C. certainly form the most extensive and valuable collection of its type and is well worth seeing.
Included among the exhibits are various presents from popes and foreign princes as well as a wedding present from Ludwig XIV; some of the coaches were even driven from Rome or Austria to Lisbon. The oldest exhibit is a 16th C. Spanish coach, in which Philipp II entered Lisbon at the time of the Spanish domination of Portugal. Simply decorated externally, the interior is richly embellished. Pompous baroque coaches, which demonstrate different principles of construction, form the largest part of the collection - clear evidence of the increasingly abundant great love of splendor among the nobility. They include some coaches built in the early 18th C. which are without doubt the most valuable, for example a carriage commissioned by Joao V for a Portuguese ambassador on the occasion of a papal visit. Also on show are two 18th C. processional coaches and several sedan chairs, which had to be carried by men or by mules.
On view in the second room is a forerunner of the first Lisboan taxi cab, a small coach colored green and black just like the current taxis - although in reverse order. In the entrance hall stands the coach in which Elizabeth II enjoyed a tour of Lisbon when she first came to Portugal in 1957.
For those interested in the appearances of members of the Portuguese royal family there are about 20 portraits of the members of the Bragan family on show upstairs in the gallery.
In contrast to the splendor of the coach museum there is a collection of model cars upstairs at the exit, the gift in 1986 of José Pinheiro da Costa.
Address: Praça Afonso de Albuquerque, 1300-044 Lisboa, Portugal

Palácio de Belém - Garden

Behind the Palácio de Belém (entrance on the Largo dos Jerónimos) stretches a grassed area covering about 7ha/17 acres. Once belonging to the palace, it was laid out in 1912 as a tropical garden. About 400 different plant species flourish in the peaceful park, which is worth visiting, and in some hothouses.

Monument to the Discoveries

One of Lisbon's most famous sites and tourist attractions is this well known monument which today stands on the edge of the Tagus. This famous carving is shaped like the bow of ship, with Henry the Navigator on top.

Folk Art Museum

From the Torre de Belém follow the bank of the Tagus in an easterly direction passing the Museu de Arte Popular to the Padrao dos Descobrimentos.
Address: Avenida de Brasilia, Portugal

Belém Tower

The Belém Tower (Torré de Belém), built in the early 16th C, is one of the most photographed sites around Lisbon. The unique four story tower faces the sea, with ramparts in the shape of a ship's bow.

Palácio Nacional da Ajuda

The Palácio Nacional da Ajuda was built as a replacement for the royal castle at Terreiro do Paço, which was destroyed in the 1755 earthquake. A first, provisional, wooden building at Ajuda burnt down in 1794; in 1802 construction of the large scale project designed by the Italian architect Fabri was begun - it has remained incomplete until today. The royal family's flight to Brazil in 1807 and the Miguelist wars of 1832-34 contributed to the building work stopping temporarily. The original plans were altered several times, first by Manuel Caetano de Sousa, then by J. Costa e Silva and later by Francisco Rosa. It was not until the end of the 19th C. that the building was in any way almost finished.
The plans for the castle complex envisaged a construction of more than twice the size of the current building. Looking into the inner courtyard the unfinished state of the building becomes clear: instead of the planned windows, merely useless openings in the wall are to be seen on the west side of the courtyard. On the south wall also, which was really intended to be the main facade, there are quite a few signs of the unfinished nature of the building. The announcement of an architectural competition has now begun a new attempt finally to complete the construction of the former royal palace.
Located on an exposed site above the river Tagus, the Palácio da Ajuda is visible from afar. The enormous complex appears compact and strong. The large scale front facade, with three large central windows above three entrance portals lined by Doric pillars, at first hides the fact that the building is incomplete. More than 20 allegorical marble statues stand in arrow niches in the hall; they were made in the 19th C., some of them being the work of the famous sculptor from the Mafra school, Machado de Castro. Only Luis I used the palace as a proper residence from 1861 to 1889; Maria Pia von Savoyen, his wife, lived here until she left Portugal in 1910. The royal family's living rooms can be viewed today; valuable tapestries and furniture as well as portraits of members of the royal family can be seen. The rooms are sometimes used for state receptions or for extensive temporary exhibitions (then from time to time not all of the royal living rooms are open to the public). Part of the palace is used as an administrative wing, in addition a library with an adjoining archive is located here.
Address: Largo da Ajuda, 1349-021 Lisboa, Portugal

Botanic Garden of Ajuda

The Ajuda Botanical Garden, which was commissioned by Pombal in 1768 and was laid out in the Italian style, lies somewhat to the southwest of and below the Palácio Nacional da Ajuda grounds, with its entrance on the Calçada da Ajuda. A collection of rare plants, including an approximately 400 year old dragon tree, can be seen here. A view of the Tagus and of the Ponte 25 de Abril can be enjoyed from a higher terrace.
Address: Calçada da Ajuda, 1300-010 Lisboa, Portugal

Museum of Ethnology

The Museum of Ethnology on the northern edge of the Lisbon suburb of Belém contains an extensive collection of materials and information from the former Portuguese colonies in South America, Africa and India.
The modern building on the Avenida Ilha da Madeira was not officially opened until 1985; however, there is only sufficient space to show the most important exhibits on a permanent basis. The museum's collection is therefore shown as a rotating series of very interesting, technically excellent exhibitions, each based around a different theme and well worth visiting.
Address: Rua de S. Francisco, 24, 9350-211 Ribeira Brava, Portugal

Parque Florestal de Monsanto

The wooded Parque Florestal de Monsanto extends across hilly land to the west of Lisbon. With the exception of some well used traffic routes, the area is very quiet and not to be recommended for long walks. The possibility of creating a popular leisure area here, close to the city, has been completely ignored up until now. However, efforts are at present being made to increase the general leisure value of Monsanto Park and to create a recreation area near to Lisbon with proper barbecue areas and pathways. With several viewpoints and well sited restaurants, a good basis is already available for new development.
Monsanto Park is home to a variety of species of birds, trees, flowers, and animals.

Palácio dos Marqueses de Fronteira

Palácio dos Marqueses de Fronteira is a 17th C Renaissance style mansion built by the Mascarenha family. Members of the family still live on the site although tours of the gardens and some of the rooms are offered.

Aqueduto das Águas Livres

Aqueduto das Águas Livres is the old aqueduct spanning the Alcântara Valley. The structure features 35 arches, with the highest one reaching 62 m.

Ermida de Sao Jerónimo

By climbing up a grassed area on the Rua de Alcolena we reach the Ermida de Sao Jerónimo, which was built in 1514 according to the plans of the famous Manueline architect Diogo de Boytaca. The chapel, which looks almost like a monolith, stands out from the other remaining constructions of this epoch through its simple harmonious proportions and, above all, its restrained Manueline upper ornamentation.
The building, in an exposed location, represents in principle simply a rectangular cube, whose heaviness is only tempered by the sparse decoration on the four corners and on the upper edge. The true features of Manueline design appear particularly clearly in its simplicity. The corner pillars adorned with Gothic gargoyles jut out beyond the building and taper into finely pointed turrets. The upper edges resemble nautical cabling. A slender cross rises above the Manueline portal.
The impressive little chapel is generally closed; however it is worthwhile climbing up to it because of the unusual view of the Torre de Belém and the Atlantic, which appears very close from here.
Address: Rua Pedro de Covilhã, Portugal

Rua Vieira Portuense

It is worth viewing the row of houses along the one side of the Rua Vieira Portuense on the edge of a large expanse of grass between the Praça do Império and the Praça Afonso de Albuquerque.
The narrow houses date from the 16th C. and 17th C. Compared with the many large scale and historically famous places of interest in the near vicinity, these small dwellings with their brightly painted exteriors appear cheerful and restrained. They give an impression of a life lived on the edge of great events, in which little would be gained from the heroic deeds and wealth of those days. Some of the pretty little houses are now restaurants.

Centro Cultural de Belém e Museu do Design

A new cultural center, to the west of the Praça do Império, was opened in 1993. It consists of a conference center and two concert halls with 400 and 1,500 seats respectively. A parking lot and restaurants are included in the ultra modern Centro Cultural, which was designed by Vittorio Gregotti and Manuel Salgado.
Also located inside the center is the Museu do Design, with a fine collection of 20th C furnishing from the Francisco Capelo collection.
Address: Praça do Império, Portugal

Igreja de S. José da Memória

Halfway between the botanical garden of Ajuda and the Jardim Tropical, the small Igreja de S. José da Memória stands on the Calçada da Memória. After an unsuccessful attempt on the life of José I, the king had the well proportioned cupola church (designed by the well known architect Mateus Vicente) built in 1760. Vicente also contributed to the construction of the Basilica da Estrela and the Palace of Queluz. The grave of José's Minister Pombal was transferred to the church in 1923.
Address: Calçada do Galvão, Portugal

Electricity Museum

Lisbon's latest museum is the Electrical Museum, in Belém. It is housed in the head office of the "Central Tejo" power station. The red and white brick building dates from the turn of the century and was designed by the French engineers Veillard and Touzet. The exhibits document such features as the street lighting in Lisbon and also deal with industrialization in Portugal.
Address: Edifício Central Tejo - Avenida Brasília, 1300-598 Lisboa, Portugal

Imperial Square

The Praça do Império, which was created on account of the world exhibition, consists in the main of a small park with accurately cut hedges depicting Portugal's different municipal coats of arms. The over sized fountain basin in the center also has coats of arms around it; on special occasions the imposing, colorfully lit fountain is turned on.

Ermida de Santo Cristo

The inconspicuous little Ermida de Santo Cristo stands not far from Restelo stadium on the Rua de Alcolena. The Manueline church, now closed, was built in 1517 by Joao de Castilho and was originally integrated into the wall surrounding the grounds of the Hieronymite monastery.

Jardim Tropical

Having thus seen the most important places of interest in Belém, and if time remains, it is worth including a visit to the Jardim Tropical or to three chapels located further to the north.

Jardim do Ultramar

The entrance of the garden planted an island of banana trees on a lake. Inside the garden are avenues of chorisia speciosa, palms and Brazilian coral trees. The formal garden opens to public occasionally.
Official site: Portugal
Address: Jardim Agrícola Tropical, Calcada do Galvao

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