The Belém Tower (Torre de Belém) was built between 1514 and 1520 in a Manuelino style by the Portuguese architect and sculptor Francisco de Arruda. Inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1983, the Tower of Belém (or Tower of St. Vincent) is an icon of Portugal’s cultural heritage spread across the world. It is one of the architectural elements punctuating the cityscape of Lisbon’s monumental riverside area of Ajuda-Belém. Built to perpetuate the memory of Lisbon’s Patron Saint, St. Vincent, the Tower was part of a tripartite defence system as it stood between the bulwark of Cascais and the fortress of S. Sebastião da Caparica on the opposite bank of the river. The Tower boasts a typical Manueline decoration with twisted ropes encircling the building and ending in elegant knots, armillary spheres, crosses of the Order of Christ and naturalistic elements.
Strategically built on the North bank of the Tagus River to the plan of Francisco de Arruda between 1514 and 1519, the Tower of Belém is one of the jewels of architecture from the reign of King D. Manuel. It combines a traditional mediaeval keep with a more recent bulwark housing a casemate to store the first devices designed to resist artillery fire. The Tower gradually lost its role as a defence system at the mouth of the Tagus River and after the Spanish occupation,its former ammunition depots were converted into dungeons. Noteworthy in the Tower’s four stories are the Governor’s Room, Kings’ Room, Audience Room and, finally, the Chapel with its typical 16th-century vaults.
Inside Belem Tower
The ground floor of this architectural jewel has 16 windows with cannons. The visit also includes a tour of the pits and holes where the prisoners were thrown into.
The tower has five floors which lead to a roof terrace. Each story is connected by a small and narrow spiral staircase, which, on the busiest days is a little overwhelming, having to wait your turn to climb and descend.
The floors are, from bottom to top: The Governor’s Hall, The Kings’ Hall, the Audience Hall, the Chapel and Roof terrace.