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Belém tower / Torre de Belém

Belem Area

Standing on the waterfront at Belém near the mouth of the River Tagus is Torre de Belém, arguably the most iconic symbol of Lisbon. Originally conceived as a lighthouse, the tower was eventually built as a defensive fortress on the orders of King Manuel I. Architect Francisco de Arruda was tasked with designing the tower.

When it was inaugurated in 1521, the tower would have been much further from the shore than it is today - the earthquake of 1755 shifted the river's course and in the 19th century, land on the north bank was reclaimed, making the river narrower.

Granted World Heritage status by UNESCO in 1983, the Belém Tower is today one of the most popular sightseeing attractions in Lisbon. Reached by a narrow walkway from Belem's broad esplanade, this quirky Manueline gem is a delight to explore. Kids especially will have endless fun playing hide and seek amongst the parapets, or scampering up and down the narrow spiral staircases. The rest of us, meanwhile, can contemplate the achievements of Portugal's bravest navigators who departed near this historic landmark to chart unknown lands 500 years ago.

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