Santa Maria de Belem

Santa Maria de Belem, along with Torre de Belem, is a parish of Lisbon, Portugal, a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.

author:Kurt Kopeinig

Photos provided by Panoramio are under the copyright of their owners

It is also famous as the place from where many great Portuguese explorers have set off on their journeys of discovery. The site includes the 17th-18th century Belem Palace, a former royal residence.

The most famous and beautiful feature of the site is the Belem Tower, built early 16th century from lioz limestone, as a fortified lighthouse guarding the entrance to the port of Belem, a ceremonial gateway to Lisbon. The tower consists of a bastion and the 30 meter 4 story tower, as well as a cloister and inner courtyard. It is a prominent example of Manueline style, a type of late Portuguese Gothic.

The Belem bastion is shaped like an irregular hexagon, consisting of a bulwark above the water and housing cannons in the wall. Below are the storerooms and the magnificent casemate, spanned and covered by thick and massive canopies and ribs of stone. Above is a terrace with 6 turrets. The Belem tower was the first Portuguese fortification with a 2 level gun emplacement. On the terrace of this innovative military structure, a statue of the Virgin was constructed later. The tower houses the Governor's room, King's room, the Audience room and the chapel, with narrow spiral staircases connecting the floors. The King's room has a loggia overlooking the river.

There is another loggia on the first floor, covered in renaissance style, with 7 arches and resting on large corbels.

The walls bear symbols such as the coat of arms, crosses of the Order of Christ, armillary spheres and twisted rope. Torre Belem encompasses a Gothic and neo-Manueline cloister with pinnacles above the gallery and Moorish turrets and cupolas on the corners of the tower. The base of the turrets are decorated with images of beasts, including the first sculpture of a rhinoceros in Western European art. Moorish influence is also recognizable in the delicate decorations, arched windows, ribbed cupolas on the watchtowers. The upper corners of the walls feature statues of St. Vincent and St. Michael. A niche houses a statue of Our Lady of the Grapes, holding a child and a bunch of grapes.



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