Belém, a place unknown in most of the world. But once this Lisbon neighborhood was starting point of the great discovery travels. This is where Vasco de Gama embarked for mapping out the route around Africa. This is where all aboard would cast their last glances on a familiar shore. Today, Belém still remembers of that heroic history. Yet it’s also a cute, sleepy town offering typical Portuguese architecture, river views, and pastries. Come along on our discovery trip around Belém.
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Getting to Belém
To get to Belém you catch a tram from Lisbon. If you’re lucky it will be a wooden one, the famous historical trams that still drive around the capitol. You get off just before the bakery Pastéis de Belém, to be recognized by the eternal waiting line. That’s because this is the bakermat of the pastel de nata, the typical pastry with custard topped with cinnamon. Conquer the cue like Vasco de Gama did to the waves because it is really worth it. The shop itself is small, so the cue doesn’t continue inside. And inside you will find vast, tiled sitting rooms. Walk through and be really surprised at the distance to the entrance when you finally walk out… You can also save your natas for a nice spot with a view, like we did.
Alright, continuing with discovering the great discovery travels, we’re starting at the great monastery down the street. This is de Mosteiro dos Jerónimos. You can visit the church free of charge which I recommend. It has the tombe of Vasco de Gama and the space is impressive in size, tasteful decorations, and mysterious incidence of light. Wanna see more? You can visit the adjacent monastery for an entrance fee, it often has an exhibition.
Now it’s time to visit the river Tagus. There’s an impressive monument commemorating the great discoveries called the Padrão dos Descobrimentos. It was constructed for the event of the Portuguese World Exhibition in 1940. It’s very tall and you can visit it’s rooftop. The size symbolizes the grand importance of the Infante, the king of Portugal who made the travels possible. The monument is in the shape of a ship with Henry the navigator up front. The rest of the characters are all navigators, missionaries, cartographers, colonizers and more. Impressive!
In front of the monument there’s a map displayed in the pavement. Done in marble, in between the typical mosaic tiles that are so common in Portugal. It shows the discoveries on the world map. It’s nice to re freshen what you once learned in school and nicely done.
The last highlight of Belém takes a little walk, nice along the Tagus. You’re going to the Torre de Belém, the tower of Belém. It has a double significance. On the one hand it used to be a prison, difficult to escape from because of the surrounding water when it’s high tide. On the other it was the sign of civilization to returning ships. A baken for its travelers showing that soon they would be back in a familiar society. That they had survived the hazardous seas. This time. You can visit this tower, but it usually has a long cue for getting in. This is a perfect spot for treating yourself to the natas you bought at the beginning. I hope you enjoyed Belém!