Torre de Belem also called Belem Tower located in the Belem district of Lisbon, Portugal is a fortified tower and an UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its importance in the discoveries made by the Portuguese in the Age of Discoveries.
Built in 1515 Torre de Belem was commissioned by King John II to be both part of a defense system as a fortress to guard the entrance to Lisbon’s harbor and a ceremonial gateway to Lisbon . Torre de Belem was the starting point for many of the voyages of discovery, and for the sailors it was the last sight of their home.
Torre de Belem is a prominent example of the Portuguese Manueline style, incorporateing many stonework motifs of the Discoveries, sculptures depicting historical figures such as St. Vincent and an exotic rhinoceros that inspired Dürer’s drawing of the beast. The Belem Tower was built from lioz limestone, a light colored, rare stone that that was collected from Lisbon area. The building is divided into two parts: the bastion and the four story tower, located on the north side of the bastion.
Belem Tower is about 12 meters (40 feet) square and about 30 meters (100 feet) tall and comprises 4 levels:
- First floor is called the Governor’s room.
- Second floor is the King’s room
- Third floor is the Audience room
- Forth floor is the chapel
Narrow spiral staircases connect the floors. On the external wall there is a large coat of arms between the windows. There is also a terrace above the chapel that offers tourists incredible views of the surrounding landscape.
Torre de Belem architect is Francisco de Arruda . He was chosen due to its experience gain when working on Portuguese fortifications in Morocco . He included Moorish-style watchtowers and other Moorish influences. Facing the river are arcaded windows, delicate Venetian-style loggias, and a statue of Our Lady of Safe Homecoming, a symbol of protection for sailors on their voyages.
The 16th century tower is considered one of the main works of the Portuguese late gothic, Manueline style. This is especially apparent in its elaborate rib vaulting, crosses of the Order of Christ, armillary spheres and twisted rope. Gothic rib vaulting is evident in the casemate of the bastion, the rooms of the tower and the cupolas of the watchtowers on the bastion terrace. King Manuel I was a member of the Order of Christ and the Manueline cross of the Order of Christ is repeated numerous times on the parapets because it is a symbol of Manuel’s military strength .