Portugal is one of the most remarkable countries in Europe. They are fortunate to have been spared the two World Wars on their soil and the Spanish Civil War. This means that the country's many impressive architectural monuments have been spared the ravishes of war that has plagued much of the continent. One of the great symbolic pieces of architecture in Portugal is the Belém Tower.

The Belém Tower is the ceremonial gateway to Lisbon where the Portuguese explorers would embark and disembark. Visiting the Tower of Belém is one of the things one can do to make the most out of one's stay in Lisbon. One can even see it as part of the things to do in Lisbon during a long layover.

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The Tower of Belém's Place In The European Age of Discovery

The Portuguese were the first to lead in the European Age of Discovery. They were the first to round the Cape of Good Hope around Africa and make their way to India through that route, they were the first to discover Brazil, and the first expedition to circumnavigate the world was led by Portuguese explorers Ferdinand Magellan (although he died en route).

  • Portugal: Pioneered The European Age of Discovery
  • India: The Portuguese Were The First To Round Africa's Cape of Good Hope and Reach India By Sea
  • Ferdinand Magellan: Was a Portuguese Explorer (Employed By Spain)

The Belem Tower is officially called the "Tower of Saint Vincent" (Torre de São Vicente in Portuguese) and was built during the height of the Portuguese Renaissance. It was built from lioz limestone and the tower is four stories. high. It was one of the first buildings to achieve UNESCO World Heritage Status having been listed since 1983 (along with the Jerónimos Monastery).

  • Symbol: Considered A Symbol Of Europe's Age of Discovery
  • Listed: As A UNESCO World Heritage Site Since 1983

Today the Tower of Belém is one of the most remarkable monuments in Lisbon and Portugal. Within the country, it is considered a symbol of Portuguese identity and a symbol of their country facing the sea and its discoveries.

The Age of Discovery was monumental for Portugal and transformed the nation. In that time, Lisbon was transformed into one of the world's main trade hubs (during the 15th and 16th centuries).

Related: Alfama Is One Of Lisbon's Oldest Neighborhoods, And This Is Why It's Worth Exploring

The Military History of The Tower of Belém

The Tower of Belem was built to defend Lisbon from enemy ships and was completed in 1519. The unique design of the iconic tower includes a modern and heavily armed bastion, protruding over the river.

  • Built: Completed In 1519

The tower was an expansion of an earlier defense system for the mouth of the Tagus River against sea-borne threats. There were already the fortresses of Cascais and São Sebastião (or Torre Velha) in Caparica, but these did not completely protect the river's mouth.

In 1580, the garrison stationed in the tower fought for a few hours with the attacking Spanish before surrendering. After the defeat, the tower's dungeons served as a prison until 1830.

  • Fought: Against The Spanish in 1580 (Surrendered After A Few Hours)

During the Napoleonic Wars, the French invaded Spain and Portugal in the Peninsular War. During this time from 1808 to 1814 French forces were quartered in the tower. In its long life, the tower has received various military and other upgrades and has been used for different uses.

The tower also bears the royal coat of arms, the armillary sphere, and the cross of the Order of Christ some of which were added later on. On 7 July 2007, it was added to the registry of the Seven Wonders of Portugal. While it was built for military purposes, it is one of the most beautiful buildings in the historic city today.

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Visiting The Tower of Belém

If one is planning to visit Lisbon, it is unlikely one will have the time needed to do this city justice. There is just so many things to see and do in the historic city and so many places to put on one's bucket list. But the Tower of Belém belongs on one's bucket list if at all possible. Today it is open to the public.

Children: Free until 12 Years Of Age

  • Adult: €6 ($7)
  • Family: (-50%)
  • Senior: €3 ($3.50)

Opening Hours:

  • October to March: From 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.Last entry 5 pm
  • April to September: From 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Last entry 6 pm
  • Closed: Mondays and on 1 January, Easter Sunday, 1 May, 13 June, 24 and 25 December

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For updated or purchasing tickets, see the tower's official website. On their website, one can also see more useful information about the tower and other museums and heritage sites in Portugal.

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