When visitors arrive in Lisbon‘s historical centre of Belém, the first building they see is the imposing Jerónimos Monastery, impressive for its sheer size and without doubt one of the most spectacular monuments in the whole of Europe.
Centuries ago from a point very nearby on the River Tagus, Portugal‘s wooden caravela ships set sail for faraway lands such as the Indies, Goa, Malabar, Cochin and the Spice Islands, and this outstanding and truly immense edifice resurrects the rich and triumphant Portuguese Empire of days gone by.
Moon-white and delicate in the sunlight, it was built as a tribute to the courageous navigators, most notably Vasco da Gama, who helped establish Lisbon as the hub of a thriving empire in the 15th and 16th centuries.
The building took almost a century to construct and reflects Portugal’s prosperity and position during the Age of Discovery.
The interior of the church is translucent; a radiance seems to shine from the bare, lofty arches, and the pillars, wrought like precious metals and seeming to melt into the structure, have the pale gleam of stalagmites as they soar effortlessly to a beautifully vaulted ceiling.
There are many interesting things for visitors to see inside Jerónimos Monastery, including the tombs of the great explorer Vasco da Gama and Luis de Camões, Portugal’s most famous poet.
Adjacent to the church stands another of Portugal’s architectural gems, the cloister, a double tier of columns with marvellous detail on every arch and each column uniquely ornamented with symbols of the sea, a typical feature of the Manueline style.
After visiting the monastery, visitors are encouraged to sample the delicious pastéis de Belém custard tarts at the famous café nearby at Rua de Belém 84, which is officially known as the Antiga Confeitaria de Belém.