Day 20 - Lisbon (Belen)

Trip Start Mar 03, 2013
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25
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Trip End Mar 25, 2013


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Flag of Portugal  , Estremadura,
Saturday, March 23, 2013

Today we took a tram to Belem which is 3 miles from downtown.  Not sure if it's a suburb or just a far neighborhood.  It is where the famous explorers set out for their great explorations and where the king fled after the 1755 earthquake. The Portuguese president lives here. 

First a couple of things about my earlier blogs - the sidewalks are not made with tiles, they are made with cube shaped stones. Makes sense, tiles would not stay put on the sidewalk. The other thing, someone asked what the history was of the amazing Portuguese tile work. It was brought by the Moors, there is a lot of history here:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Azulejo

So we arrived in Belem in the rain and walked to the river and took photos of the Monument to the Discoveries - a monument built in 1940 to honor the 500th anniversary of the death of Prince Henry the Navigator

The most important and impressive thing in Belem is the Monastery of Jeronimos.  King Manuel (who ruled from 1495) erected this giant church and monastery - which stretches 300 yards along the Lisbon waterfront - as a thank you for the discoveries made by early Peyortueguese explorers. It was financed in part by "pepper money" a 5 percent tax on spices brought back from India.

The church is of the Manueline style (King Manuel), more open than earlier medieval churches. Slender palm tree-like columns, rope-like arches, ships and monsters, artichokes eaten for their vitamin C.  Nearly everything here except the stained glass survived the 1755 earthquake. One of the confessional doors is surrounded by faces from newly discovered corners of the world.  The tomb of Vasco da Gama is here. On July 7, 1497 he prayed for a safe voyage in the small chapel that stood here before the current church was built. The next day he set sail with four ships and 150 men and discovered a way to India. He arrived back in Lisbon in September 1499 after two years and two months at sea.

The cloisters are beautiful. You have to see the pictures. The lacy arcade is Manueline, the simpler upper decorations are Renaissance. There are gargoyles, functioning rainspouts (we know they function because it was raining). We saw a cat, a cricket, a monkey, a monk, an aligator and some other unidentified creatures. 

Since the President of Portugal lives next door, these cloisters are used as  a site to receive visiting heads of state and for official treaty signings, such as Portugal's admittance to the European Union in 1986.

After lunch we went to the National Coach Museum. In 1905 the last Queen of Portugal saw that cars would soon obliterate horse-drawn carriages. She decided to use the palace's riding-school building to preserve her fine collection of royal coaches.  The collection has more than 70n dazzling carriages.  The first coach was once used by Philip II, King of Spain and Portugal, to shuttle between Madrid and Lisbon. There is no driver's seat because the driver actually rode the horse. Rick Steves says that if you lift the seat cushion you will find a potty hole.  There were also very elaborate saddles and stirrups displayed upstairs.

Spent the rest of the day wandering around the streets behind our hotel. Ate dinner in a little restaurant and made friends with a guy from Germany. 
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Comments

Juda on

The coach museum reminds me of the circus wagon collection at the Baraboo circus museum. But the artifacts of a very different sort of theater!

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