Belem is a suburb of Lisbon located to the southwest of the city. Situated alongside the River Tagus, at the point where it meets the Atlantic, Belém is the place from which the Portuguese ships sailed on their voyages of discovery. Nowadays it is an area of tourism, leisure and recreation where historical monuments lie next to modern museums, contemporary art exhibitions and busy cafes.
Fearing the notoriously crowded direct tram (rightfully so after passing the tram stop with a looooog line) we walked from our apartment to the Cais do Sodré train station and caught the direct train to Belem. For 1.30 euro one way, we comfortably rode the regional train along the river to our destination. After leaving the train station, we walked along the river with all the other tourists and came along the smallest food truck ever; of course it sells Tapas.
The Monument to the Discoveries was built in 1960 on the 500th anniversary of the death of Henry the Navigator, the “father” of the Portuguese adventuring on the sea. This towering, white monument is shaped like one of the famous caravels (Portuguese sailing ships) and points out to sea, its giant stone-carved crew prominent characters from Portuguese history such as the poet Camões, the navigators Vasco da Gama and Magalhães, kings Alfonso V and Manuel I, and at the front Henry the Navigator himself.
From there we walked over to the Tower of Belem. This ornate and distinctively shaped tower was originally designed in 1514 as a formidable fortress and key to the defense of the river mouth. It was originally built on a small island, but is now on the river bank as the land pushed out towards it. On the day of our visit, all the entry fees in Belem were waived, so the line to get into the tower was overwhelming. A fact that would haunt us as we moved on to the next site, the Monastery.
The magnificent and immense 16th century Hieronymite Monastery. Taking almost 100 years to build, the colossal size and ornate decoration of the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos reflect the prosperity of the Portuguese kingdom and empire at that time, and it was created to honor the sailors who helped bring Portugal to world status. Again, the immensity of the place really didn’t overshadow the immensity of the line to get in, so we didn’t get a chance to go inside. But, wandering along the west side by the Museu de Marinha we witnessed the power of large projectiles through the armor-plated side of a ship. We attempted a pasteis de nata at Pasteis de Belem but were once again thwarted by the line. Fine. It’s just a pastry with custard; the one from the grocery store seemed just fine. (I’m waiting to be struck down by lightning for that).
After a nice lunch of local cheeses and cheese stuffed lamb meatballs at Taberna Dos Ferreiros, we found the Jardim Botânico Tropical gardens which even though was a bit run down, was a nice afternoon walk amongst the ducks, chickens and peacocks that roam freely about the gardens.
Check out the entire Lisbon area gallery here