Located in the Belem district of Lisbon, Portugal, the Belém Tower an UNESCO World Heritage Site. It owes its this place to its contribution in the Portuguese maritime discoveries of the era of the Age of Discoveries. It stands on a small island in the Tagus river near the Lisbon shore and serves as a ceremonial gateway to Lisbon.
Built in the early 16th century from lioz limestone (a light colored, rare stone that is local to the Lisbon area), the tower is a prominent example of the Portuguese Manueline style, though it also reflects traces of some other styles too. The Manueline style 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.
The building is divided into two parts: the bastion and the four story tower, located on the north side of the bastion. Shaped like an irregular hexagon, the bastion is composed of the bulwark, which sits just above the water and housed the cannons in the 16-gun emplacement in the walls. Below the bulwark are the storerooms, which were later used as prisons. Above the bulwark is a terrace with six turrets. The bastion platform could also be used for light-caliber guns. This was the first Portuguese fortification with a two-level gun emplacement and it marks a new development in military architecture. Later a statue of the Virgin was constructed on the terrace.
Standing at 12 meters (40 feet) square and about 30 meters (100 feet) tall, the tower has the first floor at the same level as the bulwark terrace which is called the Governor’s room. The second floor is the King’s room; the third, the Audience room; and the fourth, the chapel. All the floors are connected by narrow spiral staircases. A large coat of arms between the windows adorns the external wall. The terrace above the chapel offering breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape needs a visit to get the feel of it.
The most ornate side of the tower is the bastion platform on the south, the corners of which have turrets (guerites) topped by Moorish-looking cupolas. The base of the turrets have images of beasts, including a rhinoceros. A richly carved niche stands on the platform in front of the river holding a statue of the virgin of Belém (also called Our Lady of Good Success, Our Lady of the Grapes and the Virgin of Safe Homecoming).
One needs a visit to the tower to witness this architectural excellence of Lisbon.