Tower of Belém

 

Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983, this one-time defensive fortress and ceremonial gateway to Lisbon was built in the early 16th century during Portugal’s golden Age of Discovery. The tower was ordered by King João II and dedicated to the patron saint of Lisbon, St Vincent. A striking example of Manueline architecture – a Portuguese late Gothic style – the tower is encircled with stone-carved ropes and decorated with heraldic motifs, armillary spheres and symbols of the King’s power. Look out for the carved rhinocerous, commemorating a gift from India to Manuel I – the first rhino in Europe, considered at the time to be the strongest animal on earth. Over the years the tower has been a customs control point, lighthouse and political prison. Visit the tiny dungeons, explore the irregular lower bastion, (complete with famous ‘Our Lady of Safe Homecoming’ statue) or climb the steep tower staircase for breathtaking river views.