Belém Tower is an impressive structure on the shore of the Tagus River in Lisbon. The ornate fortification was built here over 500 years ago to fight off any hostile craft that came up the river. Gaze straight across the river from the top of the Tower Terrace to see St. Sebastian’s Fort, another fortification on the opposite shore. With the two towers in place, enemy warships could not achieve success in attacking the city.
Built between 1514 and 1520, Belém Tower has a storybook charm with a heavy influence of Moorish design. Notice how the structure incorporates the two features of a medieval tower and a military fortification.
Enter the building from the drawbridge that connects it to the shore. The carved rhinoceros at the base of one turret is believed to represent a live animal sent as a gift to Lisbon by an Indian governor. Cross the drawbridge to stand in the bulwark with 17 cannons pointing out to the river. Their strategic placement allowed cannon balls to skip across the water to extend their distance. Below this floor were the dungeons.
Climb the staircase to the bulwark terrace to see six turrets with lookout windows and a central opening to view the floor below. Admire the river-facing exterior from this terrace as it has the most detail to impress seafaring crews approaching Lisbon.
Go up another staircase to the Governor’s Room. Despite its name, governors stayed at a palace nearby. Notice the octagonal structure that collected rainwater for storage in a tank below. This room has access to turrets and another staircase leading to the top of the building.
Ascend to the King’s Room, which features a balcony with a commanding river view. The room’s other walls have Venetian-style balcony windows. The remaining rooms of the Belém Tower are the Audience Room and Chapel. Notice the holes in the balcony floors that allowed heavy objects to be dropped on the heads of attackers.