Praça do Império, 1400-206 Lisboa, Portugal
GPS: 38.698097113266, -9.2064504625996
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).