Belem Tower

Lisbon's Light

The Belem Tower is a not-to-be-missed monument of Lisbon. Located on the edge of the Tagus, this monument is the pride of the Portuguese capital. Since the 16th century, it ensures the defense of the estuary of Pahla and protects the flow of merchant ships. Built between 1514 and 1519, on the request of King Manuel I, this military building symbolizes the power of the Portuguese monarchy, at the era of Great Discoveries. The area around Belem Tower is a place full of history, emblem of the most powerful catholic nation in Europe.

Tour de Belém


In the middle of the 15th century, Portugal established itself as the new marine power on europe. In competition with Spain kingdom, about the monopoly of eastern colonies, the portuguese monarchy wants to protect his commercial roads. Under the reign of King Jean II, a littoral defense project emerges. More precisely, Tagus’ estuary is a strategic place in the flow of goods towards the capital city. The firsts littorals fortresses appeared near 1490, with the construction of Cascais towers and São Sebastião de Caparica, on the South shore. A first defensive node more permeable will allow to push back enemies invasions.

Cascais Tower
Overview of Lisbon

However, Tagus’ estuary doesn’t yet benefit from these urban modifications. Indeed, this area located at the entrance of the city remains vulnerable. This was repaired by Francisco de Arruda, a royal architect. Built between 1514 and 1519, the building is first supposed to be on the sea, in order to have a better port’s defence.

First stronghold of portuguese colonies, the Belem Tower losts his influence because of the Tagus’ water level loss. Nowadays, this monument is accessible by walking.



The Belem Tower is the first monument of the city built in a Manueline style. This architectural model developed during the King Manuel I reign, highly influenced by Gothic art and oriental cultures. The building has a rich decoration of sculptures and ornaments (waves, anchors, corals). Thereby, the Belem Tower has a very important place in Portuguese architecture’s history, like the Monastery of Jeronimos. The design tributes Poseidon, God of the Seas, and Great Discoveries’ expeditions.

Belém Tower
Inside the Tower

Before being a tourist site, this tower had a military vocation. However, it represents the Manueline style : we can see patterns like the cross of the order of Christ, or the armillary sphere which is the symbol of the Dukes of Viseu's maritime and military power.

The monument can be analysed in two parts : the irregular hexagon stronghold and the rectangular tower.

The tower is 35 meters high. Its south side opens on the Tagus and it is the most decorated side of the tower, because of its exposure towards the sea and the ships. Its inside is composed of multiple rooms and has four floors, including a terrace.


On the first floor, there is the Governor’s room. In the center of the room, there is a tank collecting rainwater used to resupply the city during sieges. This place also served as bedroom and office for the multiple Belem governors, like Gaspar de Paiva (the first governor) in 1521. Moreover, this room is near a spiral staircase allowing easier access to the floors above.

The King’s room is on the second floor. On the south side, it has a balcony where there are eight loopholes. Infantry could throw rocks or projectiles through them to repel the enemy.

The Audience Room is on the third floor.There, the governor received his subjects’ complaints about the everyday life in the city. He was also bringing justice by passing sentences and judgements.

The chapel is on the fourth floor and has been changed nowadays into a room giving historical information on the monument and the discoveries.

Located at the top, the terrace offers a panoramic view of the Tagus and the banks of the Belém district. It is possible to see, on the other side of the river, the São Sebastião de Caparica fortress. We can also see the cultural center and the Monastery of Jeronimos on the north side.

Find your bearings in the tower

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Terrace Chapel Audience Room King's Room Governor's Room Stronghold Battlements

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