The Belém neighbourhood in Lisbon is one of the most culturally-packed neighbourhoods in Europe. There, not only can we find some of the most important landmarks in Lisbon and Portugal but also some of the most delicious food in the city.
Anyone who has been to Lisbon before will tell you what a great city it is. It’s a special place that has a different vibe from the other European capitals such as Madrid, Paris, London or Berlin. It’s more homely, more cozy, it doesn’t feel so much like a big city but more like a big town. It’s picturesque landscape is unrivalled and we definitely need to stay longer than just a weekend in Lisbon in order to make the most of the city. Lisbon has many beautiful neighbourhoods that we can visit and enjoy the views, the food and the streets but there’s one that we cannot miss and where we will see the most landmarks in the city, Belém.
If it’s monuments we’re looking for, they’re all here. Belém is towards the west part of the city of Lisbon and it’s right by the Taugus estuary, looking to the Atlantic Ocean. As we all know, Portugal was one of the great discovering countries in previous centuries and many ships sailed from the port of Lisbon to the Americas and the Indies. One of the main landmarks of Lisbon is the Monument to the Discoveries, known as the Padrão dos Descobrimentos in Portuguese. This is a 164ft monument built in 1958 that celebrates the Portuguese Era of Discovery, the 15th and 16th centuries. The monument has two profiles, one on each side, where we can see many important characters from this period, such as Vasco da Gama and Bartolomeu Dias and other discoverers on one side and important kings and personalities from the time on the other, which add up to a total of 33. We can go to the top of the monument for just a small fee, which will give us an amazing view of the city.
Right in front of the monument we can see the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, a Manueline-style monastery that dates from the 16th century. It’s one of the most impressive constructions in the city and in Europe, and its a World Heritage Site designated by UNESCO. Miraculously, the monastery survived the terrible earthquake that the city suffered in 1755 and only a few minor damages were made. The monastery was ordered to build by King Manuel and was given to the order of the Jerónimos, monks who in turn would pray for the Portuguese discoverers who went to sea. Today, it’s an impressive construction that nobody who visits Lisbon should miss. It’s open from 10am-6pm and tickets cost 7€, although the entry to the church is free.
The Tower of Belém is another perfect representative of Manueline architecture. It’s a fortified tower that was built in the 16th century as part of the defense of the city. When it was built, it was not as close to the shore as it is today, but rather on a small island in the middle of the Taugus. The building served various purposes throughout history, such as customs office, tax collector and even as a prison but today it’s a symbol of the city of Lisbon, where we can go up to any of its four floors and see a beautiful view of the city and the sea.
If all of this walking and sightseeing has made us hungry, we cannot possibly leave Belém without trying it’s most famous gastronomical delicacy, the pastéis de Belém, the Belém cakes. These little pastry cakes with custard inside and baked on top are famous around the world and are thought to have been invented by the monks at the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos. When the monastery closed in 1820, the shop Casa Pastéis de Belém opened and has been selling them ever since, the only true and authentic ones. It’s located on Rua de Belém 84. http://www.pasteisdebelem.pt/
What an unbelievable part of the city Belém is, one that we cannot miss out on visiting when we stay in Lisbon. Belém’s monuments are part of Portugal’s proudest era, the Age of Discoveries, and along with the delicious pastéis de Belém, it will make our visit here an unforgettable one.