The Belem Tower

Belem tower LisbonThe Belem Tower is considered as one of the most beautiful examples of Portuguese late gothic architecture or Manueline style. It is a fortified tower that is located in the Belem district in Lisbon, Portugal. The tower was built to commemorate the expedition of Vasco de Gama. This defensive yet elegant tower has become one of the key symbols of the city and was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983.

The Belem Tower was built between 1515 and 1521 to become both as a ceremonial gateway to Lisbon as well as a defensive structure for the city, guarding the entrance of the Tagus River and the Jeronimos Monastery.  Its principal architect was Francisco de Arruda, an architect for the military who had already built several fortresses and defensive structures of Portuguese properties in Morocco.

Because of the influence of Arruda’s work to previous designs in Morocco, the tower was built manifesting Moorish decorative arts in its arched windows and balconies. The Tower of Belem can be divided into two parts. There is the bastion which was designed with the shape of an irregular hexagon. Then there is the five-story tower itself, which is located on the north side of bastion.

The bastion contains a vaulted chamber which has 3.5 meter thick walls with openings for the tower’s 17 large caliber cannons. An open center above the casemate made it possible for the tower to dispel smoke and fumes when the cannons were used. The base of the turrets has several images of beasts which included a rhinoceros. The whole tower is also decorated with decorative stone twisted ropes. These decorative stone ropes even are tied at a knot at the north facade of the building. The upper corners of the tower walls have statues of St Vincent and St Michael. The tower also has many fine windows with arches.

The tower itself is 35 meters high. It is composed of four storeys and has a terrace that offers wonderful views of the surrounding landscape. The different levels of the tower can be reached via a narrow spiral staircase with the second storey containing covered balconies on each side.

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