It is clear from the moment a person sets foot in Lisbon that it is a beautifully aged city, with it’s narrow, limestone paved streets, picturesque squares and impressive monuments. Just take a walk through the centre of the city, and you will feel just like a modern day Dorothy discovering the world of Oz, “I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore”.
The city of Belém, a short 15 minute train ride away from central Lisbon, is no exception. This district is famous for it’s remarkable monuments and rich history. It is popular with tourists from all over the globe who flock here to visit the abundance of museums and to try the famed Pastel de Belém, but also with Lisbon’s own, many of whom would name Belém as their favourite place to visit in the city.
One of the most visited monuments in Belém, the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos is a must-see attraction with its beautiful architecture and rich history. Construction of the monastery, requested by King Manuel I in 1496, began in 1501 with the intention of preserving the memory of Prince Henry the Navigator and providing spiritual guidance to sailors.
This monastery is also, of course, famous for it’s secret recipe for the popular Portuguese pastry, Pastel de Nata. These pastries were made and sold by the monastery after it was shut down in the nineteenth century, and the monastery’s secret recipe has been passed down through the centuries and remains a secret to this day. Pastéis crafted with this special secret recipe are granted the title ‘Pastéis de Belém’.
Originally built as a fort to protect the city of Lisbon from threats from abroad, the Torre de Belém still stands on the edge of the shoreline. It took 5 years to build, with construction starting in 1514 and ending in 1519. This beautiful piece of architecture still stands on the edge of Belém, and, like the Monastery, is still a popular point of interest for tourists who visit to admire it’s intricately designed exterior and historical dungeons.
Situated on the northern banks of the Rio Tejo, many of the 14th century ‘Voyages of Discovery’ set sail from Belém’s ancient harbour. Mariners like Prince Henry the Navigator, Vasco da Gama and Christopher Colombus amongst some of those most famous to visit this harbour, all celebrated by the Padrão aos Descobrimentos which stands proud at the edge of the water, the perfect homage to those sailors who helped to put Portugal on the map hundreds of years ago. Visitors can also climb to the viewing platform for magnificent views of the Rio Tejo and Belém.
I visited Belém for the first time this week, and would definitely recommend a trip for anyone living in Lisbon, and those just on holiday. There is a reason so many locals love this district, and you can see why. Just a quick train ride from Cais do Sodré, go and take in some Portuguese history and appreciate the beauty of Belém!