Belem Tower History

Belem Tower History

Belem Tower, located in Lisbon, Portugal, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an emblem of the country's maritime history. Built in the early 16th century, it served as a fortress to protect Lisbon's harbor and played a crucial role during the Age of Discovery. Designed in the Manueline style, it showcases intricate stonework and maritime motifs.

Over the centuries, it witnessed significant historical events and transformations. Today, Belem Tower stands as a symbol of Portugal's exploration and naval prowess, attracting visitors from around the world to admire its architectural beauty and learn about its fascinating history.

Timeline of the Belém Tower

Late 15th century: The Belém Tower history begins, with King John II planning the defence of Lisbon.

1514: Construction of the Tower begins under architect Francisco de Arruda.

1519: Construction of the governor's house, Casa do Governador da Torre de Belém, starts.

1520: The construction of the Belém Tower is completed, with Gaspar de Paiva appointed as its first captain-general and alcalde.

1580: The Tower was conquered by Spain, marking the start of a 60-year rule over Portugal.

1655: The Tower serves as a customs control point and navigation landmark along the Tagus River. 

1807: Lisbon is taken by Napoleonic troops, and the two upper stories of the tower are destroyed.

1845: The Tower is restored to its original state by Minister Terceira.

1865: The Tower serves as a lighthouse.

1940: Conservation measures to preserve the Tower are implemented.

1983: Belém Tower is declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

History of The Belem Tower

The Origin

Constructed in the 16th century by architect Francisco de Arruda, Belem Tower served as a fortification safeguarding Lisbon from River Tagus raids. It became a crucial landmark for sailors embarking on voyages, marking their last glimpse of land. Despite its initial defensive role, the tower transitioned into various functions over time.

Initially serving as a state prison more than a defensive stronghold, it later adapted to new roles. In 1655, it functioned as a customs port, followed by a telegraph station in 1810, and finally as a lighthouse in 1865, reflecting its evolution alongside the changing needs of Lisbon's maritime landscape.

Read more: Inside Belem Tower

The Architect

Constructed by military architect Francisco de Arruda, Belem Tower stands as a prime exemplar of Manuelino style architecture from its era. Notable for its ornate turrets embellished with Moorish influences, it showcases a unique blend of architectural elements. Arruda's expertise extended beyond Belem Tower; he contributed to significant projects such as fortifying Tangier and designing the Palace of Sintra. His legacy endures through these landmarks, each reflecting his mastery and the cultural fusion characteristic of their time.

Purpose of Belem Tower

Belem Tower served as both the departure and arrival point for Portuguese explorers, functioning as a ceremonial entryway to Lisbon. Additionally, it held strategic significance in defending the city. In 1571, proposals were made to enhance and fortify the tower. Francisco de Holanda advocated for bolstering coastal defenses to safeguard the kingdom's security. This underscores the tower's pivotal role not only in maritime exploration but also in ensuring the protection and defense of Portugal's interests during a time of expansion and geopolitical challenges.

Do Reach: How to Get to Belem Tower

What Was Done to Preserve Belém Tower?

To preserve the Belém Tower, various efforts have been made over the years. In 1940, small conservation works were undertaken by the Ministry of Finance. In 1953, a project integrated the tower with the local shoreline. A significant restoration in 1983, marking its 500th anniversary, repaired stonework and reinforced foundations. From 1999 to 2000, another restoration addressed damage from weather exposure, repairing cracks and fissures. In 2006, a project tackled rising dampness by installing a drainage system and waterproofing the stonework.

Further work continued in 2007-2008, repairing the tower's roof and wooden elements to prevent any further decay. Between 2014 and 2015, restoration focused on weathering and erosion damage, including the tower's decorative elements. The most recent major effort, in 2017-2018, cleaned and repointed the exterior stonework and installed new lighting to highlight its features. These efforts have preserved the tower's structural integrity and beauty, ensuring that the Belém Tower history remains accessible for future generations. The continuous conservation work highlights the tower's importance as a symbol of Portuguese maritime heritage and architectural excellence.

Do Checkout: Plan Your Visit to Belem Tower

Construction of Belém Tower

The construction of Belém Tower began in 1514, directed and supervised by architect Francisco de Arruda. Built on a small basalt island near the northern bank of the Tagus River, the site later connected to the mainland as the river shifted. The tower, completed in 1520, stands about 30 metres tall and has five levels, including a terrace.

Designed in the Manueline style, it features intricate carvings like twisted ropes and armillary spheres. The tower served to strengthen Lisbon's defences and celebrate Vasco da Gama's expedition to India. Its construction reflects Portugal's maritime power during the reign of King Manuel I.

Belém Tower Today

Today, the Belém Tower stands as a major landmark and tourist attraction in Lisbon. This 16th-century fortification is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the 7 Wonders of Portugal. Visitors can explore its intricate Manueline architecture and climb to the top for stunning views of the Tagus River. The tower, with its rich Belém Tower facts, continues to symbolise Portugal’s maritime heritage, drawing thousands of visitors annually to admire its historic and architectural significance.

Belem Tower Tickets Options

Belém Tower Entry Tickets
i4 Stars| Rated By 39+ Customers
Belem Tower Entry Tickets
highlightMobile Voucher
View More Details
Starts at
INR 14.43
Saving 31%
INR 9.99
/per adult


Why was the Belém tower built?

The Belém Tower was built to protect Lisbon from raids along the Tagus River. It served as a defensive fortification, a ceremonial gateway, and a point for embarkation and disembarkation of sailors. Later, it became a lighthouse and prison.

What is the historical significance of Belém Tower?

The Belém Tower holds immense historical significance as a symbol of Portugal's maritime power during the Age of Exploration. It served as a ceremonial gateway, defensive structure, and customs checkpoint. In 1983, it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, reflecting its global cultural importance.

Did the Belém Tower's function change throughout history?

Yes, the Belém Tower's function changed significantly throughout history. Initially built for defence in the early 16th century, it later served as a ceremonial gateway, customs checkpoint, lighthouse, and prison. In the 19th century, it even functioned as a telegraph station.

Is the Belém Tower a UNESCO World Heritage Site?

Yes, the Belém Tower is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It received this designation in 1983 for its cultural and historical significance. The tower symbolises Europe's Age of Discoveries and Portugal's maritime heritage.

What can visitors learn about the Belém Tower's history?

Visitors to the Belém Tower can learn about its rich history, including its construction between 1514 and 1520 for defence and as a ceremonial gateway. They can explore its role in Portugal's maritime history, serving as a customs checkpoint, prison, and lighthouse. Additionally, visitors will appreciate its Manueline architectural style and its significance as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1983. Exploring these aspects provides a comprehensive understanding of Belém Tower history.


The content and images used on this site are copyright protected and copyrights vests with the respective owners.

© 2024 All rights reserved.