Saturday, 15 February 2020

Portugal: Lisbon - Belem

 The Belem Tower

We are trying something different again today – a mixed bus and walking tour focusing on the Belem district, down by the River Tagus. We pick up the Yellow Bus at the Liberadores stop in Praca Dom Pedro IV and make one intermediate stop at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. The Foundation was built to house Gulbenkian's collection after his death in 1955 and opened in 1969. It offers a wonderful journey through art history from Egyptian and Roman artifacts, through medieval and Renaissance painting up to the Impressionists, with tiles, furniture and items by Lalique as well. 

Unfortunately, photos were not allowed inside the gallery, but this fantastic piece in the foyer could be. It is a called La Primavera: A homage to Jean Goujon and was sculpted by Alfred-Auguste Janniot between 1920 and 1924. Janniot does not seem to be well known, but we thought it was a wonderful price of work.

We got back on the bus and followed quite an interesting route down to Belem, which included an aqueduct and the gaol. We learned that Portugal was the first country to end capital punishment.We enjoyed this view over the Tagus.

 The first main sight of course is the Belem Tower. Here is a detailed view.

It was built in 1519 as a defence for Lisbon. A matching fort was built on the other side of the Tagus, but there is no trace of it now. The Tower is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

We took advantage of a wonderfully entrepreneurial venture: Wine a view. It was a sort of mobile wine bar with a wide selection of wines served in plastic glasses which you keep. A small number of chairs were placed by the retaining wall of the river, or you could sit on the wall if they were full. We enjoyed a delightful interlude sipping wine and enjoying the warm sunshine (!). This is one aspect of the view.

After a while we strolled along the riverside promenade towards the magnificent Monument to the Discoverers. On the way we passed this curious brick lighthouse, seemingly derelict.

Soon after we reached the magnificent Monument to the Discoveries …

The monument was conceived in 1939 by  architect José Ângelo Cottinelli Telmo, and sculptor Leopoldo de Almeida, as a temporary feature of the Portugese World Exhibition opening in June 1940. The building you see today was completed in 1960 and formed part of the of the 500th anniversary of the death of Henry the Navigator. He is the leading figure, more easily seen in the close up below. Vasco de Gama, the only other Portugese discoverer I can think of, is behind Henry on the other side of the monument.

Beyond it was the splendid 25th of April Bridge which we had driven across on our way into Lisbon the previous day. We discovered later that a railway line runs underneath the roadway.

On the far bank was the statue of Christ the King – in the style of the more famous Christ the Redeemer in Rio di Janeiro – towered impressively. It was consecrated in 1958 and was built in thanks for Portugal avoiding the horrors of World War 2, although this possibly owed more to the policies of the Portugese dictator, Salazar.

Now we headed away from the river to take the underpass beneath the road and railway which leads to St Jeronimo's Monastery, which is also an UNESCO World Heritage site. This enormous structure consists of two parts, the Monastery on the left hand side which now seems only to host exhibitions (and the ticket machines for the cloister) …

… and the church and cloister on the right (the cloister is behind the church).

The complex was built to fulfill a promise made by the King of Portugal to do so if Vasco de Gama returned from his inaugural voyage of 1498 to India. Happily he did. Construction began in 1502 in the Manueline style. Vasco's tomb lies inside the church.

The ceiling of the church has beautiful vaulting.

You leave the church and enter the Cloister by its separate entrance (where your machine-produced ticket is validated by a man with a pen). The first sight of the two storey cloister was extremely impressive, especially with the late afternoon sun illuminating the far side. (We had been here before, 26 years ago, but it is still capable of making a tremendous impression.)

The whole thing is on a grand scale: this is one side of the downstairs section.

A staircase leads to the upper section which also offers a view towards the church highlighting its dome.  

Finally, we enjoyed the former refectory with its tiled walls and vaulted ceiling.

It remained only to catch the Yellow Bus back to Rossio square. 

Conditions: mainly warm and sunny.

Rating: five stars.

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