Belém (Lisbon)




Belém grows with the departure of the Portuguese royal armada that sails halfway around the world. Prince Henry the Navigator created the parish and gave it the name of Santa Maria de Belém.

Vasco da Gama

Vasco da Gama, a knight of the Order of Christ, left for India (1497). Back he brings a cargo of spices, more than enough to pay for the trip. Similarly, Pedro Álvares Cabral, São Francisco Xavier and many others left here for strange new worlds.


Jerónimos Monastery

The Jerónimos Monastery remains as a testimony to the triumphant maritime route to the Orient. It symbolises Portugal’s “Golden Age”.

Jerónimos Monastery

It honours Dom Manuel’s vow to the Virgin for a successful voyage. It stands on the site of the old chapel (1452) founded by Infante Dom Henrique and dedicated to Santa Maria, from where Vasco da Gama and his determined companions spent the night in prayer before their departure.

The monastery was partly financed by a tax on the earnings acquired on the sea route discovered by Vasco da Gama – a 5% tax.

  • Coordinates: 38.697891,-9.206704

Even before the earthquake of 1755, the monastery was already known as the best monument in Lisbon. Begun in 1502, it is the most ambitious achievement of Manueline architecture.

It is primarily the work of two figures: the first is the Frenchman Diogo Boitaca, probably the creator of the Manueline style with the Church of Jesus in Setúbal. The second is João de Castilho, the Spaniard who took over the construction from 1517.

Castilho designed the church’s main entrance, a complex hierarchy with figures around the grand presence of Prince Henry the Navigator (pedestal above the arch), in the centre of 12 figures (the apostles). Prince Henry the Navigator appears here as a knight-monk with an abundant beard.

Prince Henry the Navigator

Castilho’s intricate, almost flat ornamentation reveals the influence of the Spanish Plateresque style. Nevertheless, Manueline features abound. Inside, by the entrance, are the stone tombs of Vasco da Gama (1468 – 1523) and the great voice of the Discoveries: the poet Luís Vaz de Camões (1527-1570).

The interior is one of the great European Gothic triumphs: great spatial design with areas of ornamentation of naturalistic detail. The entrance to the remarkable cloister, vaulted and embellished, is one of the most original pieces of Portuguese architecture.

Cloister in Jerónimos Monastery

Once again, it maintains the Gothic forms and associates a rhythmic, exuberant movement throughout the structure with Manueline concepts such as ropes, anchors and the sea.