After a 15 minute stroll from the Belém Monastery, you can reach one of the most iconic Lisbon attractions – the Tower of Belém.
Why to go: This majestic piece of architecture is one of symbols of the city which you simply can’t miss. Built in the beginning of the 16th century, it remembers the times when portuguese explorers were discovering the world and bringing back exotic articles to continental Europe.
And even today, after almost five centuries, the amazing condition of the tower allows you to admire its beautiful manueline style and monumental appearance.
What was the purpose of the tower? Even though you might think that Tower of Belém was maybe just a nice lighthouse, it was originally more than that – as a part of military fortification, it secured the mouth of the river Tejo, taking part in marine battles and serving as a fortress.
However, during the centuries its interiors were also used as a prison and the tower became an a important navigation point, customs and a place where harbour taxes were collected.
A special note: Whether you decide to go inside the tower or not, have a closer look at its right side wall from the outside – in one of the corners, you can see a decoration which resembles a rhino’s head.
You might have to need a bit of imagination to see it, since during the centuries, it lost its shape, but if you know what you are looking for, you can still recognize it. And there is actually an interesting story connected with that sculpture.
Nowadays with all the zoo’s in every bigger city and sunday documentary programs on every channel, we don’t think about it like that, but imagine that in medieval, rhino must have been a trully exotic and strange animal for people. And the one carved as a decoration at Tower of Belém remembers maybe one of the first ones that were sent to medieval Europe.
It came as a gift from India, and the story says the portuguese king Manuel I. actually wanted it to fight an elephant. However, the elephant was not really in favour of it and run away. The king then decided to sent the rhino as a gift to pope, which didn’t really end up happily, but also inspired Abrecht Durer to make his famous woodcut – you can read the whole story for example here.
How to get there? Just take a train from Cais do Sodre station (faster) or a tram number 15 from Praca do Comercio and get off at Belém. From there, you will have to walk about 2 kilometres to the west continuing around the river – since you will pass the Monastery of Jerónimos, the Monument to the Discoveries or Berardo Museum of modern art, I would suggest to join the visit with seeing also some of these sights :-)
If you are in Lisbon on the first Sunday of the month, you can visit the tower for free, just as some other sights (full list here). To check the opening times and the price of the tickets, you can visit the official website.
And if you are planning to visit also the Mosteiro do Jerónimos nearby, consider the combined tickets (just be sure you have enough time to visit both attractions, since you have to do the visits in one day and being in rush wouldn’t the best way to see these amaying places).