The Torré de Belém or Belem Tower is Lisbon, Portugal’s most famous landmark. It stands as the city’s most renowned symbol situated along the Tagus riverbank.
During the time of King John II, he posted a ship (called the Grande Nau) in the river to protect the shore of Belem. His successor, King Manuel I replaced the ship with the now known Belem Tower. This tower was originally constructed as a lighthouse and a defensive fortress at the entrance of the River Tagus. It was then constructed on a small island off the river; however, the shift of the riverbank location has resulted to it standing on the mainland at present.
Francisco de Arruda was the architect of this tower. He began building it in 1515. De Arruda was a prominent architect known to use the Manueline style. This style is also called the Portuguese’s late Gothic architecture. It is mainly about incorporating maritime elements and symbols of discoveries by Vasco de Gama and Pedro Cabral, both legendary voyagers. De Arruda also worked on the fortification of Portugal’s fortresses in Morocco so there are evident Moorish-influenced watchtowers in the Belem Tower itself.
The whole complex is composed of four-story tower on a hexagonal ground plan very much visible from a distance. Its main façade is facing the sea. The character of the tower is shown particularly in the lower bastion, offshore. The walls have embrasures where visitors could imagine firearms being positioned, ready to fire at the sight of an enemy.
The three sides of the tower seen from the riverbank have roofed balconies. These balconies have the Cross of the Knights of Christ, while below the altar of the bastion stands a Gothic statue of Nossa Senhora do Bom Sucesso (Our Lady of Good Fortune). Another noteworthy part of the architecture is the rhinoceros’ head below the west tower facing the land. It is said to commemorate the first rhino in Europe given to Manuel I as a present from India. Isn’t this interesting?
So if you are up to some fortress exploration and gothic architecture appreciation, Torré de Belém is definitely a must-see.