Top 5 fun facts about Belém
Belém has always been one of the most important areas of Lisbon. Thanks to maritime trade and shipbuilding production, Belém’s popularity increased and it played a very important role in the Portugal history. For strategic and logistics issues, Belém was essential to the protection of Portuguese sea routes. This is why it became a great commercial port and a shelter for navigators.
Indeed, the visit of Belém is fundamental for the understanding of Portuguese history and culture. Its monuments and museums are fascinating and life-changing. A walk in Belém will provide great insights into the history of the country and its impact on the world. While in Lisbon, visiting this area is a must. So if you’re in interested and want to know a little more about the neighborhood before getting there, read on and find out my top 5 fun facts about Belém!
Fun fact nº1: The most epic journeys started along the banks of the river Tagus in Belém
Do you know anything about the Age of Discoveries? It is the name that was given to the period of time between the fifteenth century and the seventeenth century. During these centuries, mostly Portuguese, but also the Spanish and other European countries, intensively explored the world, looking for new trade routes. During this time, relationships with Africa, America and Asia were established. The trade for gold, silver and spices began during the Age of Discoveries.
The most famous explorers are Christopher Columbus – who was actually Italian-, Vasco da Gama, Pedro Álvares Cabral, Bartolomeu Dias, Fernão de Magalhães. Thanks to these men, societies started seizing new opportunities, exploring the world and learning from other cultures.
Most ships from the Age of Discoveries set sail from the banks of the river Tagus, which is the rio Tejo in Portuguese. Vasco da Gama and many other explorers and navigators started their most epic journeys from Belém, which is why this district of Lisbon has so many monuments and museums celebrating this era.
Fun fact nº2: Why was the Padrão dos Descobrimentos built?
The architectural concept was designed by Cottinelli Telmo, and its sculptures were made by Leopoldo de Almeida. But the question is why was this peculiar landmark built? The Padrão dos Descobrimentos was erected in 1940 for the Portuguese World Exhibition.
The purpose of the monument is to pay tribute to all the most important figures that were involved in the Portuguese discoveries in one way or another.
Fun fact nº3: The Torre de Belém has served many purposes before becoming Lisbon’s greatest landmark
The Torre de Belém was built between 1514 and 1520 at the behest of the king Manuel I of Portugal. The purpose of the tower was to protect the capital from enemies attacks. During the time it was built, the Tagus river reached the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, which meant the tower was surrounded by water, located in the middle of the river. Over the years, the defence and attack means and tools evolved, so the Tower of Belém lost its initial function. It was used as a beacon, and then as a political prison.
The Torre de Belém is, without a doubt, the most famous monument of Lisbon. It is a symbol of the glorious Age of Discoveries. This magnificent landmark along with the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos are the most emblematic monuments of the city of Lisbon, both are the legacy of Portuguese history.
Fun fact nº4: The most visited place in Belém is a pastry shop!
It might seem a little surprising but it’s true! The most visited place in Belém is a pastry shop. It is the Antiga Confeitaria de Belém, commonly known as Pastéis de Belém. It is the most popular place of Belém because they sell the delicious traditional pastéis de nata. The pastry shop is always very crowded, because everyone wants to try these small custard tarts. Every minute of the day, pastéis de nata are served warm straight out of the oven. My advice is for you to eat them on site, because that’s when they taste better.
Usually, the Portuguese eat a pastel de nata with a coffee. Some like it heated, some like it cold. Some like to add a little bit of cinnamon, some like it plain. You will have to try the few different ways to eat it and find out which one you like best! Just make sure you do not leave Lisbon without trying a few of these! You will love them and long for them until your next trip back to Lisbon!
Fun fact nº5: The Mosteiro dos Jerónimos was the place for meditation and prayers for the Portuguese navigators
The Mosteiro dos Jerónimos is one of the most important monuments in Lisbon and it’s been proclaimed as World Heritage by UNESCO. Built in the late 1400’s by the King D. Manuel I, with the gold collected from the Portuguese discoveries. The monastery is a perfect example of a unique architectural style only found in Portugal, the Manueline style. It is an amazing monument!
The monastery was given to the monks of the Order of Saint Jerome, from whom it got its name. In the church of Saint Mary, you will find the tomb of Vasco Da Gama. He was the most famous Portuguese sailor who discovered the sea route from Lisbon to India. The Jerónimos Monastery symbolizes the power and knowledge of the Portuguese. The remains of important Portuguese figures have been transported to the monastery, such as Luís de Camões, the poet who immortalized the Age of Discoveries in its poem Os Lusíadas.
The Mosteiro dos Jerónimos was a haven of peace for many explorers and navigators. This is why some of them, such as Pedro Álvares Cabral, Vasco da Gama and some others, used to meditate and pray in the monastery before leaving for their maritime journeys.
You now know my top 5 fun facts about Belém! I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this article. Walking Belém will open up new horizons. The architecture and the history of this district are inspiring. While visiting Belém monuments, you will get to learn everything about Portuguese history and how it once was a world power. The Portuguese are adventurous, they like to travel, explore and discover new places and cultures. If you do too, you will love your stay in Lisbon. Visit as many places as possible and talk to the locals for your trip in Lisbon to be fulfilling and rewarding! Don’t hesitate to contact us if you need further information about anything! See you soon in Belém!