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Reminders of the Age of Discovery in Belém

Padrão dos Descobrimentos 
Belém, on the banks of the Tagus River, hosts a multitude of attractions, so many in fact, that it would be hard to see them all in a day. But walking along the banks of the Tagus River will give one a preview of the Age of Discovery.

The Padrão dos Descobrimentos or the Monument of the Discoveries is a commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Age of Discovery when Portuguese explorers roamed the "unknown" world and brought untold riches back to their native shores. On the ship shaped monument are Prince Henry the Navigator followed by personalities who had a hand in the discoveries. On the northern flank are King Alfonso V, Vasco da Gama, Ferdinand Magellan, Bartolomeu Dias and St. Francis, among others. Two interesting figures on the southern flank, which can be seen on the image above, are Luis Vaz de Camões, Portugal's national poet and a woman, Queen Philippa of Lancaster, the mother of Henry and the brain of the discoveries. Camões wrote his epic poem, Os Lusiads, (The Lusiads) about the voyage to India. Here's an excerpt from the first stanza of that poem which is a telling account of the journey.
"Arms and the heroes, who from Lisbon's shore,
Through seas where sail was never spread before,
Beyond where Ceylon lifts her spicy breast,
And waves her woods above the watery waste,
With prowess more than human forc'd their way
To the fair kingdoms of the rising day
What wars they wag'd, what seas, what dangers past,
What glorious empires crown'd their toils at last" 
(Excerpt from Project Gutenberg)

25 de Abril Bridge
There's an expansive view of the 1.5 mile long 25th of April Bridge from the Padrão and the 90 ft. statue of Cristo Rei across the river which was inspired by the Christ the Redeemer statue in Brazil. The 25th of April Bridge is the doppelgänger of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. 

Reclining Figure, Arched Leg
I went to Belém specifically to see the art collection at the Berardo Museum. It happens to be across the main avenue from the Padrão. This is an amazing museum of modern and contemporary art and will be the subject of a full article in the future. The collection includes works by Picasso, Andy Warhol, Modigliani, Magritte and a long illustrious list of artists represented at the museum. You need days to browse through the collection and that's fine because entrance is free and it's open every day of the week.

Henry Moore's Reclining Figure, Arched Leg reposes on the garden of the Museum. There's a terrific vantage point in the garden from which to admire the scale of the Jerónimos Monastery.

Church of Santa Maria, South Portal
King Manuel I commissioned the construction of the Church of Santa Maria in the Jerónimos Monastery to replace the decaying church of Santa Maria de Belém. The Hieronymite Order was entrusted to administer the monastery with the explicit purpose of praying for the King and for the safe return of the seafarers. 

The Portal Sul (above) of the Church is adorned in the Manueline style. This architectural ornamentation technique was named after King Manuel I (who reigned from 1495-1521) and is uniquely Portuguese. It is characterized by the use of maritime elements such as the armillary sphere, rope and anchor; elements from the sea like shells, pearl and seaweeds; botanical motifs and the cross of the Order of Christ.

Church of Santa Maria in the Jeronimos Monastery
As you enter the Church from the main door (West Portal), your eyes are drawn upward to the ceiling which is supported by six ornamented columns. The ribbed vaulting spreads like a web to the transept where bronze medallions of the cross and the sphere dot the web. UNESCO describes Jerónimos Monastery as exemplifying "Portuguese art at its best". 

Vasco da Gama and Luis de Camões are buried on either side of the lower choir as you enter the main door.

The Tower of Bélem is an important landmark in Portuguese history and a UNESCO monument. The voyages of discoveries embarked from this harbor. It was the last view of home the sailors glimpsed as they set out to the new world. I have no new images of the Tower but please refer to my old post, Images of Lisbon, featuring a collage of photos taken in Lisbon including the beautiful cloister of the Jerónimos Monastery.

How to get there:
I took the suburban train from Cais do Sodré to Belém which is the end of the line for the Green subway line. The Cais do Sodré station is located on Avenida 24 de Julho. Alternatively, take tram #15 from Praça do Comércio or Praça da Figueira and get off in front of the Monastery.


Images by TravelswithCharie


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