Belem Tower & Jeronimos (Hieronymites) Monastery (Lisboa - Portugal)

I had very conflicting feeling when I was here. One, is the joy of traveling, being in a new country and a new UNESCO Site. Two, the not-so-positive feeling of being in the land of Vasco-da-Gama! This very site, Jerenimos Monastry is the last resting place of Vasco-da-Gama. 

Why the not-so-positive feeling? Well, being an Indian, our history of being a colony began with Vasco-da-Gama! While the Indian civilization dates back to as old as 7000 BCE and proof for Indian products in Egypt, dating back to 3000 BCE, international commercial connections had always been there and done fair! But it was in 1498, when Vasco-da-Gama landed in Kerala, and tried to not pay the custom duties or pay the value for pepper, situation changed, and then began the rough history of India being invaded & colonized by one country after another till 1947 when we were finally independent! 
The feeling of Indians towards Vasco-da-Gama is similar to that of Native Americans towards Columbus - for us, the explorers did not discover a new route, they just exploited us!!! Columbus & Vasco-da-Gama are celebrated heroes in their countries, not so much at their destinations!!!!! Anyways, that aside, today Belem Tower and Jeronimos Monastry are protected as UNESCO World Heritage Sites and our primary places to see in Lisboa. 

Though called a tower, Belem Tower is a rather short one with 3 levels in it. At any given point of time 120 people are let inside the tower. Mostly its 60 pre-booked tickets/Lisboa card holders and 60 drop-ins. So technically there is no way to skip-the-line unless you're there on an off-season, mid-week day! There isn't much in the ground floor to see (but there was a temporarily closed section and I don't know what was there). Like most historic towers, this too is not wheelchair friendly and has a spiral staircase to climb it. 

Modern technology has been put in good use here with timed ascending and descending slots making less awkward half-way encounters! There are 4 floors before reaching the top of the tower. The view from atop the tower is awesome with a stunning view of the 25 Abril Bridge and the huge sculpture of Jesus Christ! This is called National Sanctuary of Christ the King, the looks very similar to Rio's Christ, the Redeemer. 
The 2nd floor has a unique thing that shouldn't be missed - a sculpture of a Rhinoceros. In 1514 CE, King D Manuel I was gifted a Rhino by Sultar Muzafar of Kingdom of Cambay, India (region of Gujarat & Goa etc). It came all the way to India to here after 4 months on ship and reached here in 1515 when the Torre de Belum was being built. Inspired by the new, unusual, exotic creature, it has been immortalized here as sculptures under architect Franscisco Arruda! Sadly when King D Manual I wanted to send it to the Pope as a gift, the ship drowned and it died. However it was recovered and the body was stuffed with hay for preservation!

Our next stop was ofcourse the Jeronimos Monastery and within it, the cloister first. This was built in 1502 to 1572 in 3 stages. The architects was initially Diogo Boitica, then Joao de Castilho and finally Jeronimo de Rouo. It was under Castilho that the complex structures of the cloister were made. Much later in 19th C, during its restoration, most of the intricate, maritime inspired elements were added. the original decoration was primarily inspired by vegetation, animals, religious symbols and monarchy!

One of the rooms in this floor is the refectory (dining room for the monks), a very large room (37m long) filled with exquisite hand painted tiles of 17th C, of scenes from new & old testament. Another room here is the chapter room where the daily meeting of the monks happened. Somehow the room was never used for the actual purpose because it was never completed in its hay time, but only in 19th C CE. This has 3 arches on one side with the image of Jesus in crucifix (this belongs to 19th C) at the centre and the 4 evangelists in the 4 pillars. 


The path from the ground floor to the first floor is like a tunnel, reminding me much of Pisa Baptistry. The view from atop is fascinating and the octagonal structure reminded me of Adalaj vav! The most fascinating architectural detail here was the very ornate flying buttresses!!! The high choir can also be accessed from here and the wooden sculpture of Jesus on Crucifix here belongs to 1550.  


After this we entered the main church where the tomb of Vasco-da-Gama is located. Since the main church is free of cost, there is always a long queue here and it isn't possible to skip-the-line!!! The first things that fascinating me were its pillars and the ceiling. The pillars were tall and detailed - I mean, really tall till the ceiling of 2nd floor and the octoganal pillars were filled with such intricate relief sculptures in Renaissance theme. For this mind-blowing height, and the magnificent size of the room (30m wide x 25m tall), there are only 6 pillars! This is one of the largest rooms made in medieval times with the least number of pillars. 
Apart from these 2 we wanted to see quite a lot more in Lisbon including Santa Justa Lift, Carmo Convent Ruins, History of Lisbon Mural and Castelo de S. Jorge. However the 1.5hr flight delay proved costly plus the sudden weather change that got Atyudarini cranky, we had to skip all of that. However we headed to MAAT Museum whose terrace is publicly accessible and has a stunning view of 25 Abril Bridge! However, the longest and the most fascinating bridge in the city is the Vasco-da-Gama bridge which we only saw from the sky!!!

Also we had a look at the Padrão dos Descobrimentos, a monument built in 1940, to celebrate the voyages done by various people like Vasco da Gama. There is a huge world map in front of it on the floor with years marked on it at various places indicating when a voyager from Portugal reached there. Ofcourse the earliest is Calicut (Calecute), India in 1498!
Even though we had only 1 day in Lisbon, Lisboa card was good for us because, it not only included the tickets of these 2 sites, local public transport, but also the train to Sintra. Since we stayed in Sintra, we had to travel the same day, so it worked out cheaper for us (price details below).

To Get There:
On Google Maps: Belem Tower, Jeronimos Monastery 
The best way to get here from Lisboa city centre is by train. The nearest railway station to Belem Tower is Alges, however, it falls under Zone 2. Belem station is a short walk from the sites, but under Zone 1. If you buy a zonal ticket, you will have to get down at Belem and not Alges. However the Lisboa Card and Viva Viagem card with CP include the next zone. 
It is possible to walk between the 2 sites. Auto rickshaws (tuk tuks) are also available!

Entry Tickets & Timings:
Jeronimos Church only: Free
Jeronimos Monastery: €10; Tue-Sun 10:00AM to 5:00/6:00PM (in winter/summer respectively)
Belem Tower: €6; Tue-Sun 10:00AM to 5:00/6:00PM (in winter/summer respectively)
Belem Tower & Jeronimos Monastery combined ticket: €12
Viva Viagem Public Transport card (excl. CP train to Sintra/Cascais) - 24hrs: €6.00
Viva Viagem Public Transport card (incl. CP train to Sintra/Cascais) - 24hrs: €10.55
Lisboa Card 24hrs -  €20


Bhushavali

An ardent traveler by passion. I am a wanderlust.. Read more about me here.

12 comments:

  1. Thanks for taking me back to Lisbon. One of our favourite cities ever. I can understand your mixed feelings about Portugal as an Indian. We liked the Belem Tower and Padrão dos Descobrimentos for the panoramic views. But on our day in Belem, we ran out of time to get inside the Jeronimos Monstery. So great to see your pictures. The stone carvings inside are quite intricate.

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  2. I love Portugal and am looking forward to visiting again. Enjoyed looking at all your photos and learning more about the history behind the sites. I hadn't really thought about the situation with Vasco da Gama so it was good to be enlightened about it.

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  3. Great post!! Is it a shame that I haven't been to Portugal yet?? But it has been on my list for a long time. UNESCO or not but Portugal has some of the best heritage sites in the world. Your mix feeling for the site of Vasco da gama is understandable as no one wants to be reminded of the days when the land and the natives people were exploited for their natural resources.

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  4. I echo your sentiments about Vasco Da Gama. I might have felt the same. At the same time, I would have been comparing those lovely monuments and carvings to the various ones in India -specially in Kerala and Goa. All said and done, I loved these ones too. Jeronimo monastery definitely seems a place I would have loved

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  5. Thank you for such an informative post. I appreciate you sharing your conflicting thoughts and feelings about the sight. I wasn't aware of this history and am thankful and appreciative that you shared it. I am in awe of how gorgeous the architecture and carvings are. I cannot imagine how love it took to create such a beautiful place. And the skill and attention to detail that went into making it. So very impressive!

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  6. I have not been to Europe. If I get the chance to travel to Europe, I'll definitely visit Lisbon. Lisbon sounds like a great place to visit

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  7. This post reminds me of my Lisbon trip 2 years ago. I visited Belem Tower but didn't go inside. I didn't know about Jeronimos Monastery when I was there, so now adding it to my travel list. Also, thank you for sharing your thoughts about the sights, as I didn't know about the conflicts before.

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  8. By the name, I was expecting some tall structure. However, reading your blog, I can understand the Belem Tower structure didn't match the mark of a tower. As an architecture and history lover, the fact that fascinated me much is that the statue of Rhinoceros that's gifted by the Indian King. Nice one from Lisbon!

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  9. Finally a place on your site that I've been to! I loved it in Lisbon, so it's great to see that you also found a lot of enjoyment in what you saw there!

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  10. Wow, I've never had an experience while traveling that I felt personally affected myself and my heritage. Good for you visiting anyways and soaking in the experience and all it had to offer!

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  11. Your post made me miss Portugal so much. I hope I get to visit once again soon.. :)

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  12. I am visiting Lisbon in 3 months so its the perfect time for me to land on your post. I did not know that Belem Tower is the last resting place of Vasco da Gama and I understand the mixed emotion being an Indian myself, because you're right, it was when he 'discovered' India that it became open to colonization and came in the interest of the colonizers. Nevertheless, Belem Tower looks like an interesting place to visit so I'm definitely including it in my list.

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