Belém Tower in

Show Map

Belém Tower (in Portuguese Torre de Belém, ) or the Tower of St Vincent is a fortified tower located in the civil parish of Santa Maria de Belém in the municipality of Lisbon, Portugal. It is an UNESCO World Heritage Site (along with the nearby Jerónimos Monastery) because of the significant role it played in the Portuguese maritime discoveries of the era of the Age of Discoveries. The tower was commissioned by King John II to be part of a defense system at the mouth of the Tagus River and a ceremonial gateway to Lisbon. but it also incorporates hints of other architectural styles. The structure was built from lioz limestone and is composed of a bastion and the 30 meter (100 foot),


In the late 15th century, King John II had designed a defense system for the mouth of the Tagus that depended on the Fortresses of Cascais and São Sebastião (or Torre Velho) in Caparica on the south side of the river. These fortresses did not completely cover the mouth of the river and further protection was required. To this end, he ordered the "making of a strong fort", of which Garcia de Resende came to sketch. But the monarch died, before any plans were initiated. It was King Manuel I of Portugal, twenty years later, that revisited the idea, ordering the construction of a military fortification on the southern margin of the Tagus, around the beach in Belém.

In 1519, the build had concluded (just five years before Manuel's death), and Gaspar de Paiva was temporarily stationed to command the fortress. This commission became permanent on 15 September 1521, when Gaspar de Paiva was appointed the first Captain-General, or alcalde, who named the fort to the invocation of the city's patron saint, naming the fortress the "Castle of São Vicente" .

Some years later (1571), Francisco d'Holanda advised the monarch that it was necessary to improve the coastal defenses in order to protect the Kingdom's capital. He suggested the construction of a "strong and impregnable" fort that could easily defend Lisbon and that the Belém Tower "should be strengthened, repaired and completed...that it has cost so much without being completed". D'Holanda designed a improved rectangular bastion, dotted with watchtowers.

In 1580, after a few hours of combat, the garrison stationed in the Tower surrendered to Spanish forces under the command of the Duke of Alba. The tower received military upgrades in 1589 and 1809–14.

The Belém Tower was built from lioz limestone, a light colored, rare stone that is local to the Lisbon area. The building is divided into two parts: the bastion and the four story tower, located on the north side of the bastion.

The 16th century tower is considered one of the main works of the Portuguese late gothic, Manueline style. The decorative carved, twisted rope and elegant knots also point to Portugal's nautical history and are common in the Manueline style. and the cross of the Order of Christ is repeatedly used numerous times on the parapets.


The interior part of the bastion cave, with a circular staircase in the north, has two contiguous halls with vaulted ceilings supported by masonry arches, with four lockers and sanitary installations. On the ground-floor bunker, the floor is inclined towards the outside, while the ceilings are supported by masonry pilasters and vaulted spines. Gothic rib vaulting is evident in this casemate, the rooms of the tower and the cupolas of the watchtowers on the bastion terrace.

Two archways open to the main cloister in the north and south, while six broken arches stretch along the eastern and western parts of the cloister, interspersed with square pillars in the bastion cave, with gargoyle facets. The open cloister above the casemate, although decorative, was designed to dispel cannon smoke.<ref name="Torre"/><ref name="Bulwark"/> The upper level is connected by a railing decorated with crosses of the Order of Christ, while at the terrace the space is guarded by columns topped by armillary spheres. This space could also be used for light-caliber infantry. This was the first Portuguese fortification with a two-level gun emplacement and it marks a new development in military architecture. Some of the decoration dates from the renovation of the 1840s and is neo-Manueline, like the decoration of the small cloister on the bastion.<ref name="Torre"/>

On the southern portion of the cloister terrace is an image of Virgin and Child. The statue of the virgin of Belém, also referred to as Nossa Senhora de Bom Successo (Our Lady of Good Success), Nossa Senhora das Uvas (Our Lady of the Grapes) or the Virgem da Boa Viagem (Virgin of Safe Homecoming) is depicted holding a child in her right hand and a bunch of grapes in her left.

The tower is about 12 m wide and 30 m tall.<ref name="Watson"/> On the first floor interior of the Tower is the Sala do Governador (Governors Hall), an octagonal space that opens into the cistern, while in the north-east and north-west corners there are corridors that link to the bartizans. A small door provides access via a spiral staircase to the subsequent floors. On the second floor, the Sala dos Reis (King's Hall) opens to the loggia (to overlook the river), while a small corner fireplace extends from this floor to the third floor fireplace in the Sala das Audiências (Audience Hall). All three floor ceilings are covered in hollow concrete slabs. The fourth floor chapel is covered in a vaulted rib ceiling with niches emblematic of the Manueline style, supported by carved corbels.