We visited Belem back in 2016 with some friends. They were not so keen on the touristy stuff on account of the crowds (long weekend in Lisbon (point to note – be more aware of public holidays in foreign countries). They opted to find the famous Pastel de Belem (Portuguese tarts) and chill out in the park. I had to convince my husband to visit the Jeronimos Monastery (had a great rap in the Lonely Planet book). So we (my friend Liddy as well) stood in what was an endless line. Once inside, a little nun demanded to see proof of our ages and after we paid, she took a copy of the ticket (docket) and glued it ever so slowly into a book along with all the other dockets. No wonder the lines were long. It made for great story telling later on.
Having visited the Tomar Castle a few days prior, we were quite underwhelmed. To be fair though, there were many great photo opportunities. The Monastery was completed in 1600 and is one of the finest examples of the Manueline style of architecture.
This style is characterized by its intricately carved stonework with motifs that were often inspired by nautical themes such as chains, ropes, spheres and anchors. The refectory was decorated with 18th century azulejos (ceramic tiles).
The cloister is richly decorated Manueline motifs and each column has unique decorations with no two columns alike. Anyone with a zoom lens can really go to town here capturing those motifs and stonework.
One thing I love to do is to use parts of a building for a frame. There were lots of opportunities for this here. Also the cloister courtyard had some unique artefacts as well.
Look up at the ceilings. Whilst these weren’t colourful or adorned with frescos, they showed some incredible architectural designs. There are times when you get that moment with no people in your photo. Sometimes you have to be patient, other times not so lucky. But don’t forget to take the photo anyway, or at least concentrate on the ceiling or the sides.
As we entered the church that was attached to the Monastery, it was very crowded. This is where the famous Portuguese explorer, Vasco da Gama (1460-1524) is buried, along with some Portuguese kings and queens.
The church was quite dark and difficult to photograph, but walking around, I found quite a few smaller interesting objects.
Torre de Belem:
Following the Monastery visit, we were to meet our friends, but I explained that I had also bought a ticket to the Torre de Belem. After much complaining from the others, I convinced my husband to come with me. A brisk walk revealed that no way were we going to get in, so I reluctantly admitted defeat and we returned to our friends in the park who presented us with Portuguese tarts.
I then vowed that we would return to Portugal another year and visit the Tower. That we did in late 2018. In fact we got to Belem so early that we were literally first in line.
The Torre de Belém, completed in 1521 was originally completely surrounded by water but over the centuries the Tagus river receded and a section has silted up. The tower is now easily accessible from the riverbank by a walkway.
The tower was designed in the new Manueline architecture style. This is a Portuguese variant of the high Gothic style found in northern Europe but with more exuberant decorations and nautical-themed ornaments.
Looking up, down and through all resulted in happy snaps. The views across the Tagus river were amazing.
I loved the challenge of taking photos from the inside. Sometimes they can turn out quite dark but actually look good. Keep the large black border around windows like the ones below for a dramatic effect.
We were informed that there is a carving of a hippo on the outside of the building which we had to find. It was actually quite small.
The tower was quite high and with good views from the top looking down.
Overall the Torre de Belem was definitely worth the return trip to see.
Monument of Discoveries:
Monument of Discoveries is huge and and so creatively constructed. The 50 metre (171ft) tall monument, shaped like a ship’s prow, stands at the marina in Belém, the starting point for many of Portugal’s explorers. This is where in 1497 Vasco da Gama embarked on his voyage to India and in 1493 a storm forced Christopher Columbus to anchor here on his way back to Spain after his discovery of the Americas.
The monument shows more than thirty statues of people who played an important role in the discoveries. Leading the way is Henry the Navigator who is shown standing on the bow holding a model of a caravel. There are also explorers, navigators, writers, a mathematician, a cartographer and other figures from the era of the discoveries. Make sure you walk around both sides to see them all.
It can be difficult to get the entire monument in a photos, but zoom in to get the faces of the discoverers, using different angles if necessary. These statues are so well done. Look down at the pavement which in itself contains a lot of history. Perhaps you can take a photo of your shoes while standing on your own country.
You are able to go inside the monument to visit the museum and then take a lift to the top for great views over the Tagus River and Belem itself. We did not go to the top, again due to crowds.
We spent a nice afternoon viewing the sunset from the MAAT (Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology) a few nights previous. I was able to capture this monument at dusk using my zoom lens. Very impressive.
I really like the photo below as it give a feeling of the unknown world to which Henry the Navigator was heading.
Once again, we had the chance to visit the Pastel de Belem shop for custard tarts. Custard tarts can be purchased in Lisbon as well. In fact they are available almost anywhere in Portugal. I know because I tried lots of them. I have even made them when I got back home.
Finally if you have time to spare, spend it walking around Belem – there are lots of monuments, parks and of course many tiled houses. Happy Snapping.
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