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Praça do Império, 1400-206 Lisboa, Portugal

GPS: 38.698097113266, -9.2064504625996

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Symbolizing the wealth and power of Portugal at the time of the Age of Discovery (15th and 16th centuries), the Jerónimos Monastery is located to the west of Lisbon, in the tourist district of Belém. Also called Monastery of the Hieronymites, its architecture is in pure Manueline style, as are some decorative elements of the elegant Tower of Belém, nestled at the entrance to the city’s port on the banks of the Tagus River.

The construction of the Jerónimos Monastery was ordered by King Manuel I of Portugal in 1502, on the site of an old chapel, to honour the successful expeditions of Vasco da Gama. The Portuguese navigator set out from Lisbon in 1497 and discovered India by sea the following year after successfully rounding the Cape of Good Hope. He became the first European to reach the eastern part of the Asian continent by sea. The sovereign relied on the abundance of profits and goods resulting from the maritime explorations of the kingdom’s navigators to imagine a flamboyant monument in honour of the religious of the Church, charged with their protection. Inaugurated by Philip II more than a century later (in 1604), the Jerónimos Monastery takes its name from the Christian community that occupied it for four centuries to pray, support and spiritually comfort the sailors before they set out on long sea trips. These monks, belonging to the Order of Saint Jerome (or Hieronymites), are known for having invented in 1837 the pastry of the pastéis de Belém whose recipe is still kept secret just a stone’s throw from the monastery (a kind of flan served hot or warm with cinnamon).

Considered to be the jewel of the Manueline style, the refined building of the Jerónimos Monastery is decorated with a profusion of architectural details referring to the world of the sea (corals, ropes, marine animals…). In 1755, it was hit by a violent earthquake and then attacked by English troops at the beginning of the 19th century before being liberated from the religious order in 1834 by the Portuguese state. After major restoration work, the Jerónimos Monastery now houses a magnificent church (Santa Maria) and two major museums: the Maritime Museum (dedicated to the history of navigation in Portugal) and the National Archaeology Museum. Created in 1893, this museographic space brings together the collections of its founder, the ethnographer José Leite de Vasconcelos (a collection of manuscripts, works, engravings, photographs…), as well as the discoveries made by the archaeologist Estácio da Veiga (sites and objects brought to light in Portugal dated between the Palaeolithic and the Middle Ages).

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  • The monumental proportion of the building associated with its fine Manueline architecture; the incorporation of Renaissance and late Gothic elements making this building unique
  • The richness of the sculptures and the beauty of the decorative elements; the many symbols (references from religion, royalty, the world of the sea and animals)
  • The ornamentation of the facades; the portals adorned with statues; the richly decorated door on the south side; the massive vaults of the interior rooms
  • The sumptuous two-storey cloisters of the monastery; the former monks’ refectory and the remains of the library
  • The Church of Santa Maria with its remarkable architecture and decoration; the royal necropolis of the church (mausoleum of King Manuel I and tombs of the royal family)
  • The landscaped garden, the large fountain, the floral crests and the hippocamp statues (seahorses) in the Empire Square (Praça do Império)
  • Ship models, navigational objects, drawings and maps in the Maritime Museum; artefacts discovered on Portuguese soil and Egyptian antiquities exhibited in the National Archaeology Museum (entrance to both museum areas is subject to a charge)
  • Free entrance to the monastery on the first Sunday of each month
  • Lisbon’s cultural and leisure offer: the historic Alfama district, the steep alleys and viewpoints from the heights of the city, São Jorge Castle, the emblematic tramway line 28E, the shopping streets around Chiado Square in the Bairro Alto district, the other Lisbon museums, the popular fado songs (a typical musical genre performing in local clubs in the evenings)…
  • The first stone of the monument was symbolically laid on 6 January 1502 (according to the Catholic religion, this date corresponds to the visit of the three Magi to the infant Jesus).
  • The Jerónimos Monastery protects the tombs of several historical and notable Portuguese figures such as the navigator Vasco da Gama or the poet Luís Vaz de Camões. It is also the resting place of former kings of the Kingdom of Portugal.
  • Portugal’s first maritime explorations were directed at Africa and were motivated by the blockage of trade in the Mediterranean since the capture of Constantinople by Ottoman forces in 1453. Their aim was to find a new passage to Asia in order to get their hands on rare exotic products and precious metals. These expeditions into the unknown led to significant advances in a variety of sectors, including navigation on the open sea (notably the creation of caravels, ships capable of travelling long distances thanks to a combination of triangular and square sails). Other areas of progress included the mapping of the world (which was still in its infancy because the vast majority of people thought the sea was flat and populated by monsters) and the study of astronomy. However, these discoveries marked the beginning of systematic plundering, the evangelisation of indigenous populations, the colonisation of the land and the development of slavery by various European nations.
  • Most of the Portuguese discoverers (such as Vasco da Gama, Gonçalo Velho Cabral and Bartolomeu Dias) who took part in this great maritime epic were members of the Order of Christ. Founded in 1319, this military and religious order contributed financially to most expeditions in exchange for a 5% tax on goods brought back from African trading posts.
  • The Portuguese Empire reached its golden age in the first quarter of the 16th century. At that time, the city of Belém, from where the navigators set out to conquer the New World, was one of the richest and most cosmopolitan cities worldwide. In its markets, it was possible to find products from all continents (Europe, Africa, Asia and America). It was undoubtedly the lack of human resources available in the kingdom, given the immensity of its colonial possessions, that prevented Portugal from maintaining its territorial positions or fulfilling its future desire for expansion.
  • In 2007, the Treaty of Lisbon (European Constitutional Treaty) was ratified in the Jerónimos Monastery in the presence of the heads of state of the European Union countries.
  • Between now and 2022, the Church of Santa Maria will benefit from new restoration work (rehabilitation of the exterior walls, stained glass, windows, vaults…).
  • The Monument of the Discoveries (Padrão dos Descobrimentos) is a monumental sculpture erected in 1960 on the right bank of the Tagus River. Taking the form of a caravel, it highlights the main Portuguese actors who contributed to maritime explorations around the world.
  • In order to avoid crowds, the best time to go to the Jerónimos Monastery is early in the morning or during meal times (site closed on Mondays). Entrance to the monastery’s Church of Santa Maria has been subject to a charge since 2019.
  • The site is accessible by train (Belém station), bus (numbers 28, 714, 727, 729 and 751), tram (15) or ferry (Belém river station). It is closed on certain days of the year (Monday 1 January, Easter Sunday, 1 May, 13 June and 25 December).
  • The visit is free for holders of the Lisbon Card (Lisboa Card), which gives free access to public transport as well as to around 20 of the city’s museums and monuments (such as the famous Belém Tower).
  • The collections of the Maritime Museum and the National Archaeology Museum are on display in the north and west wings, in the former monks’ dormitories.
  • If you feel a little hungry at the end of your visit, let yourself be seduced by a local pastéis de nata (stamped pastéis de Belém).

Where to eat

  • O Navegador
    (simple and efficient)
  • Enoteca de Belem
    (trendy and intimate)
  • Pastéis de Belém
    (emblematic pastry)

Where to go out

  • Belém Tower
    (remarkable building)
  • Berardo Collection Museum
    (modern and contemporary art)
  • A Escola Portuguesa de Arte...
    (equestrian shows)

Where to sleep

  • Famous Crows Hostel
    (top youth hostel)
  • Casa Amarela Belém
    (spacious and comfortable)
  • Altis Belém Hotel & Spa
    (overlooking the Tagus River)

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