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Monastery of the Hieronymites and Tower of Belém in Lisbon

By Maggie McKneely

What is the Monastery of the Hieronymites and Tower of Belém?

Together, the Monastery of the Hieronymites and the Tower of Belém form the Belém Complex on the banks of the Tagus River in Lisbon, but they were built at different times for different purposes.

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Text: Monastery of the Hieronymites and Tower of Belém in Lisbon, Portugal.
Images: Top, a partial view of the Jeronimos Monastery with an extremely ornately decorated archway. Bottom, grassy courtyard within the monastary circled by carved pillars reaching two floors separated by window-like archways.

Also known as the Jerónimos Monastery, the Monastery of the Hieronymites was commissioned by King Manuel I in the 15th century to commemorate Vasco de Gama’s voyage to India. It was donated to the monks of Saint Hieronymus so that they could pray for the king, as well as the seafaring adventurers who left from Lisbon’s port to explore the world.

Belém Tower, or, officially, the Tower of Saint Vincent, was built in 1514 to defend the port of Lisbon. Years later, it was transformed into a lighthouse and, later still, a customs center. Today, it’s one of Lisbon’s most recognizable landmarks

A couryard that looks round or multi-sided, with flat green grass on the ground. The walls are 2 stories and lined with arches held up by square and highly-carved pillars. Inside each arch are two windows set further back, each of which has a decorative arch over it.
The courtyard of the monastery.

Why is the Belém Complex a UNESCO World Heritage site?

Both the Monastery and the Tower of Belém are exemplary examples of 15th-16th century Portuguese architecture. According to UNESCO, “they reflect the power, knowledge and courage of the Portuguese people at a time when they consolidated their presence and domain of intercontinental trade routes.”

The tower is tall and square with a flat top, except for decorative crenellations and small corner turrets. A much lower section extends out over the water from the tower - it has crenellations and corner towers too.
Belém Tower

What can you expect on a visit to the Belém Complex?

The Jerónimos Monastery is one of the most spectacular sites in Lisbon. The detailed architecture is absolutely stunning. The cathedral’s high fluted ceilings and historic artwork leave visitors speechless. And the Belém Tower is one of the most Instagram-famous places in the city. Expect to be amazed by this relic of Portugal’s “Golden Age”.

Is the Belém Complex worth visiting?

The Belém Complex is absolutely worth visiting and both sites are very popular with tourists. Allow for an hour to explore the Monastery and Cathedral. If you plan on going inside the Tower, allow for another hour, but you can also just take pictures from the outside without missing anything important.

A partial view of the Jeronimos Monastery shows a very ornate arched entrance, with lots of decorative embellishment around and above it. Along the roofline are filigreed crenellations and a corner of the building has a dome-topped little tower.
The Jerónimos Monastery

What sorts of travelers would like the Belém Complex?

Architecture and history lovers will most appreciate a visit to the Belém Complex, but anyone who has seen pictures of Lisbon will recognize them and will enjoy seeing these places in person.

Tips for visiting the monastery and the tower

If you are spending at least a day in Lisbon, purchase a Lisboa Card. It gives you free admission into the Belém Complex, as well as other discounts on transportation and historic sites and museums in the city. It also lets you stand in the shorter priority line for entrance into the Jerónimos Monastery.

Both the Monastery and the Belém Tower are two of Lisbon’s most popular tourist sites, so it’s worth getting up early and visiting them first thing to beat the crowds.

Use the map below to book your accommodation in Lisbon:

Booking.com

Also think about visiting the UNESCO sites at Sintra and/or Mafra while you’re nearby.

Where are the monastery and the tower?

Jerónimos Monastery: Praça do Império 1400-206 Lisboa, Portugal

Tower of Belém: Av. Brasília, 1400-038 Lisboa, Portugal

Because the Belém Complex is located in the heart of Lisbon, the easiest way to get there is by public transportation. From Rossio Station, it takes about 25 minutes on Tram 15 to reach the Belém district. You can also take the underground train to Cascais; the Monastery is about 10 minutes’ walking distance from the Belém Station.

It’s about a 10-15 minute walk between the tower and the monastery.

For more information about the Monastery of the Hieronymites and Tower of Belém, their opening hours and admission fees, see their official website.

Text and photos provided by Maggie McKneely of Pink Caddy Travelogue. Maggie is a 20-something politico from Washington, DC, who always has one foot off the ground, looking for adventure. She works full-time in the Swamp but uses travel as a way to stay sane.

Have you been to the Jerónimos Monastery or the Tower of Belém? If so, do you have any additional information or advice about this UNESCO World Heritage site? Please add your comments below!

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