The iconic Torre de Belém is so-called because it is a tower (torre) standing in the parish of Santa Maria de Belém, on the banks of the Tagus River (Rio Tejo) in Lisbon.
The tower was commissioned by King John II (D. Joao II) in the late 1500s to add stronger defenses to the river entrance. The river has a wide delta, so the tower was built on a stretch of land away from shore.
Although the king commissioned the tower, he died before construction began, so the project was overseen by King Manuel I, who named military architect Francisco de Arruda “Master of the works of the Belém stronghold”. The initial construction was completed in 1519, two years before the death of Manuel I.
A few decades on, various plans were discussed to fortify the tower further. At one point a plan was mooted to extend the fortification considerably, but this never materialised.
The tower was useful in 1831 during the Battle of Tagus, when the French naval fleet attacked fortifications around the Tagus in a bid to force Portugal to recognise the newly formed Kingdom of the French.
Visiting Torre de Belém
You can visit the tower for free if you have a Lisbon Card.
Top sights on the structure include:
- Manueline architecture (a style named after Manuel I).
- Our Lady of Safe-Homecoming statue (A nossa senhora do bom sucesso) – said to protect sailors.
- Moorish-style turrets (six of them) on the lower terrace looking out to the river.
- Small cloister, designed to ventilate the structure from artillery smoke.
- Sixteen cannon holes.
- The dungeon.
- Statues of saints.
How to get to Torre de Belém
Where: Avenida da India, Belem.
How: Tram 15
When: 10am to 5pm (October to April), 10am to 6:30pm (May to September). Closed on Mondays
How much: €5 or free with the Lisboa Card