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Portugals Monuments


During the Age of the Discoveries the importance of Lisbon as a cosmopolitan centre developed and it rapidly became a point of reference and meeting place for different cultures, peoples and knowledge. Portuguese naval policy in the 16th century and the progress of maritime voyages caused Lisbon to become an obligatory port of call for all those who sailed the international trade routes. The beach at Belém was the scene of many a departure to the new lands of Africa and the Orient. The riches and cultures of those New Worlds were brought to Portugal and had a decisive influence on the building of major monuments such as the Jerónimos Monastery and the Tower of Belém. Lisbon and its river entrance had to be defended. Dom João II (1455-1495) drew up an innovative and effective plan which consisted in forming a tripartite defence line between the existing fortresses of Cascais and S. Sebastião da Caparica (also known as Torre Velha) on the opposite bank of the river, and a third, new fortress eventually built by his successor, D. Manuel I, after D. João II's death.

So, the Tower of Belém was built in honour of the patron saint of Lisbon - St. Vincent - on the former anchorage site of the "Grande Nau" (a wooden man-of-war) which crossed fire with the S. Sebastião fortress and in this way the wooden structure was replaced by stone. Francisco de Arruda was appointed Master of the Fortress of Belém on his return from North Africa, where he had distinguished himself building several fortresses. Construction began in 1514 under the direction of the Master Builder of the Kingdom, Diogo de Boytac, then in charge of the building of the Jerónimos Monastery. The Tower was completed in 1520 and a year later, Gaspar de Paiva was appointed as first "alcaide". Francisco de Arruda's contibution can be seen in the Tower's architectural form and delicate proportions and also in the Islamic and Oriental influences of the decoration, particularly the segmented roofs of the bartizan turrets, whish are one of its most marked features. As a symbol of the King's prestige the decoration includes all the Manueline symbols - cables encircling the building and terminating in elegant knots, armillary spheres, crosses of the Military Order of Christ and naturalistic elements such as the rhinoceros, the first such representation in stone known in Europe. It supports the base of one of the west-facing turrets, and is evidence of Portugal's pioneering contact with other peoples across the sea.

The Tower underwent various alterations over the years, which culminated in the nineteenth century restoration of the battlements, the balustrade, the niche of the Virgin facing the river and its small cloister-like base which served to air and ventilate the casemate, particularly in the presence of gunpowder fumes. The Tower structure consists of two parts: the tower itself, still Medieval in style but narrower and with four vaulted rooms; and the fortress, of a more modern, wider design, comprising a casemate around which the artillery was placed. This hall is the first place visitors come to when entering through the main doo of the Tower.

In time, with the construction of new, more modern and more effective fortresses, the Tower of Belém lost its role as defender of the Tejo entrance. In the centuries that followed it was alternately a customs control point, a telegraph station and even a light-house. It also served as a political prison, its storerooms transformed into dungeons, from the time when Philip II of Spain became king of Portugal (1580) and during periods of political unrest. It now is a cultural reference, a symbol of the specificity of our country, contributing to the privileged dialogue with other peoples and other civilizations. As the guardian of our individuality and universality its status was confirmed when in 1983 UNESCO classified it as a World Heritage Site.


In 1496 King D. Manuel I of Portugal petitioned the Holy See for permission to erect a large monastery on the outskirts of Lisbon close by the banks of the river. In 1501 building work began and was concluded approximately a century later.

The King wished to build the Monastery of Jerónimos primarily to serve as a pantheon for royal burials of the Avis-Beja line, of which he was the first monarch. King Manuel I and his descendants were laid to rest here in marble tombs in the chancel of the church and in side chapels of transept. The fact that the Monastery was dedicated to the Virgin of Bethlehem also weighed heavily in the King's decision. The Monastery of Jerónimos as it is known today was built on the site of an already existing church dedicated to Mary of Bethlelem ( Santa Maria de Belém ). Here the brothers of the Order of Christ gave help to sailors passing through Lisbon.

The building boats a façade over 300 metres long and its horizontal lines give a feeling of calm and repose. It is built in lime stone found locally in the quarries of Ajuda, the vale of Alcântara, Laveiras, Rio Seco and Tercena. Due to its grandiose scale and the elaborate work carried out, various builders were involved in the construction. These master-builders were all responsible at one time or other: Diogo de Boitaca (1460-1528), João de Castilho (1475-1552), Diogo de Torralva (1500-1566), Jerónimo de Ruão (1530-1601) and they all left their own mark on the monument. King Manuel channelled vast sums of money into the building. Agreat part of it, about 5% equivalent to 70 Kg of gold a year, came from trade carried out with Africa and the Orient and was called "pepper money". This was used to pay costs which from the start were the King's responsibility.

In the 19th Century the Monastery saw several architectural alterations which, although they did not affect the main structure, gave it the form by which we know it today. The domed bell-tower, the dormitory wing, which is now the Archaeological Museum, and the Chapter house where most alternations took place. At the end of the last century, the tombs of Vasco da Gama and Luís de Camões were placed in the church these are by the sculptor Costa Mota. The Monastery of Jerónimos is usually held up as a jewel of the Manueline. This style, which is exclusively Potuguese, blends the architectural styles of the end of the Gothic period with the Renaissance and is associated with regal, Cristian and natural imagery, which makes it unique and worthy of admiration.

To occupy the Monastery King Manuel chose the monks of the Order of St. Jerome whose functions, among others, were to pray for the soul of the King and give spiritual guidance to the marines and navigatotrs who sailed from the beach at Restelo on their voyages of discovery. For four centuries this religious community lived in here, but in 1833 the order was dissolved and the place was left empty; the Monastery of Jerónimos passed into the hands of the state and the convent premises were used as a college for the pupils of the "Casa Pia de Lisboa" (a charitable society mainly for the protection of children and orphans), which remained there till around 1940.

Always closely associated with the Portuguese royal family, the Monastery of Jerónimos-because of the order and the connections it had with Spain and because of the intellectual output of its monks, and its inevitable relationship with the Discoveries due to its position in the capital at the entrance to the port- has always been a national symbol. The Monastery has been referred to in various chronicles and mentioned by travellers and artists. It is the resting place of Kings and later of poets. Today it is considered by everyone to be not only a remarkable piece of architecture but an integral part of Portuguese culture and identity. In 1907 it Was declared a National Monument and in 1984 Unesco classified it as a "World Cultural Heritage

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