11 Interesting Facts About Belem Tower That You May Not Know

Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Belem Tower is one of Lisbon’s most iconic monuments and landmarks of Portuguese identity. The 500-year-old structure was built in Manueline architecture and is incredible to visit on your trip to Portugal.

Although the Belem Tower is best known for being a glorious symbol of the city and its Age of Discovery, there are some facts about the monument that aren't very known. Read on to find some incredibly interesting facts about the Belem Tower.

11 Interesting Facts About The Belem Tower

Belem Tower Facts - Belem Tower

1. The Belem Tower replaced a ship that protected Lisbon

During the reign of King John II, there used to be a line of defence in place in the exact location where the tower is at. Later, his successor, King Manuel I believed that building a permanent tower would be more viable than having a ship on the water. This is how the construction of the Belem Tower commenced. The ship has multiple canons and this structure was replaced with a stone fortification in the 16th century.

Belem Tower Facts - Belem Tower Areial View

2. The Belem Tower no longer has an island of its own

A fascinating Belem Tower fact is that it was constructed on a small outcrop of the Tagus River. Due to an earthquake that took place in 1755, the location of the Belem Tower shifted. The course of the river gradually moved due to the destruction and the small island got closer to the land, thus merging the two over time and making it all the more impressive. Today, the iconic structure just appears as a tower on the bank of the river that has a perfect view of the ships arriving in the city.

Belem Tower Facts - Interior

3. The Belem Tower was built over a period of 5 years

In the year 1514, plans were in place to construct a tower, and the famous military architect Francisco de Arruda would lead the job. He was an experienced architect as he had built a lot of fortresses in North Africa earlier and was the right fit for the work. He was referred to as the ‘Master of the works of the Belem stronghold’ by the King himself and had managed to finish the tower in about 5 years in 1519.

Belem Tower Facts - Stairs

4. The Interior of the Belem Tower has levels to it

The Belem Tower is extremely impressive from the outside but is equally majestic from the inside as well. The first level is the Governor’s Hall, the second is the King’s Hall and the third level consists of the Audience Hall. The lower bastion consists of the canons that are kept facing over the sea to be ready to fire in case of any danger. Inside, there is a spiral staircase that can be explored, a rooftop terrace from which you can soak in the views of the city, and a lot of intricate architectural details that are worth exploring.

Belem Tower Facts - Santa Maria de Belem

5. The Belem Tower has another official name

The Belem Tower is named after the area in which it was constructed, Santa Maria de Belem, which is one of the districts in the metropolitan region of Lisbon. The official name of the Belem Tower is “Torre de São Vicente de Belém” or the “Tower of Saint Vincent,” as it was initially named after the patron saint of Lisbon.

Belem Tower Facts - Belem Tower

6. The Belem Tower is one of the seven wonders of Portugal

The Belem Tower is one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal. The other six wonders are the Jerónimos Monastery, Pena National Palace in Sintra, the Castle of Óbidos, Alcobaça Monastery, Batalha Monastery, and Guimarães Castle. Remember to visit them all when you travel to Portugal and make the most out of your trip.

Belem Tower Facts - Tower view

7. The Belem Tower has a Manueline architectural style

Since this style originated in the 16th century, you can see that there is a transition in the design from the Late Gothic style to the Renaissance form. The style integrated maritime elements and portrays the discoveries that were made by famous Portuguese explorers such as Pedro Alvares Cabral and Vasco da Gama.

Belem Tower Facts - Dungeons of the Belem Tower

8. The Dungeons of the Belem Tower were used as a prison

In the early 15th century, King Manuel I used the dungeons of the building to keep his enemies captive. During the 1580 battle, the Portuguese monarch surrendered to Spain’s Duke of Alba. After this, the city needed more prisons and the Belem Tower was used to accommodate the enemies as it had extra space. This way till 1830, these dungeons for used for this purpose.

Belem Tower Facts - collect taxes

9. The Belem Tower used to collect taxes

The Belem Tower had served for a variety of reasons – a ceremonial gateway, a prison for most of its existence as well as a military fortification. Another crucial role it played was that it was used as a control post in 1655 to collect taxes from ships that entered the harbour of Lisbon, Portugal.

Belem Tower Facts - Rhino closeup

10. Beasts and Rhinoceros were sculpted into the façade of the Belem Tower

You can spot these figures on the base of the external facing turrets. It is the first representation of a rhinoceros in any Western European art. It is believed that the architects were very inspired by King Manuel I as he had gifted one of these animals to Pope Leo X in 1515. The figures are extremely small and intricately detailed.

Belem Tower Facts - Belem Tower

11. The Belem Tower was Listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO

Lisbon is famous for holding numerous World Heritage Sites that are listed by UNESCO. The Belem Tower joined the club in 1983 after its long existence as one of the country’s most important and iconic landmarks in Portugal and continues to be one of the most popular tourist attractions in Lisbon.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Belem Tower

Q. What is the Belem Tower?

A. Inaugurated in the year 1521, the Belem Tower is the most iconic attraction in Lisbon and is a symbol that portrays Portugal’s glorious Age of Discovery.

Q. Where is the Belem Tower?

A.The Belem Tower is located on the northern bank of the Tagus River in the city of Lisbon, Portugal, south of Europe.

Q. Who built the Belem Tower?

A. The Belem Tower was designed by the famous military architect Francisco de Arruda.

Q. How old is the Belem Tower?

A. The Belem Tower was built between 1514 and 1520 and was classified as a World Heritage Site in 1983 by UNESCO.

Q. Is it worth visiting the Belem Tower?

A. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Belem Tower offers a story of the Portuguese Age of Discovery. Visit the attraction to check out the spiral staircase, and the rooftop terrace for great views and admire the architectural details and rooms. 

Q. Why is the Belem Tower famous?

A. The Belem Tower is famous as it celebrates the expedition that was led by navigator Vasco da Gama, who had established a maritime trade route from Portugal to India. The monument is also known as the Tower of Saint Vincent, honouring Lisbon’s patron saint.

Q. What is the architectural style of Belem Tower?

A. The Belem Tower is known for being the best example of the Manueline style of architecture that was famous in early 16th century Portugal.

Q. What are some interesting facts about the Belem Tower’s history?

A. An interesting fact about the Belem Tower is that it was added to the list of World Heritage Sites recognized by UNESCO in 1983, after proving itself as one of the country’s most important attractions.