Belem to most visitors, is synonymous with Portuguese egg tarts. It is said that the origins of the famous egg tart started right in Belem, where they were put on sale by monks and nuns. Back in those days, egg whites were used to starch clothes, and the yolks were then used for confectionary to avoid wastage.
The Travelling Squid’s Take
To me, Belem is better known for the landmark – Padrão dos Descobrimentos. To me, it’s an extremely intriguing landmark due to its realistic portrayal of famous Portuguese royalty and explorers at that time. What I like about it is that the monument not only portrayed pride, joy and success of the ancient explorers, but depicted realistic emotions of anguish, hope and vulnerability as well. Apart from that, the Portuguese egg tarts are the sweetest draw for any visitor to Belem.
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Belem is located at the mouth of the River Tagus and is located 6km west of the Lisbon city centre and 2km west of the 25 de April Bridge. Many of Portugal’s distinctive buildings and landmarks are located in this area, including the Jerónimos Monastery and the Belém Tower.
How to get there?
Unlike Cristo Rei which involves a fair bit of time and effort to get there (by taking the train, ferry and bus), getting to Belem is straightforward. Simply take Tram 15 from Praça da Figueira or Praça do Comércio in Lisbon to Belém. Tram 15 is a really comfortable tram. It’s well air-conditioned and moves so steadily that you feel like you are on a MRT train on the road. The ride took us less than 40 minutes.
Here are four things to do in Belem Lisbon:
1. Visit the Jerónimos Monastery
Touted as one of the largest monasteries in Lisbon, Jerónimos Monastery is one of the main sights to see in Belem. It is slated to be closed on Monday, hence do try to avoid visiting Belem then.
As indicated in an upcoming post ‘Photo Story: Visiting the Jerónimos Monastery in Belem’, the interior of the monastery is as intriguing as it’s exterior. You’ll find statues of respected Portuguese explorers put to rest, by the side of stained glass windows. It’s a simple yet powerful sight. Apart from that, enjoy the carvings of Saints and angels on the exterior tells a great story.
2. Chill by the side of Padrão dos Descobrimentos
Padrão dos Descobrimentos, as described earlier and in an upcoming post, is my favourite monument in all of Europe.
3. Have Portuguese Egg Tarts
These egg starts were created before the 18th century by Catholic monks at the Jerónimos Monastery. At the time, convents and monasteries used large quantities of egg-whites for starching of clothes, such as nuns’ habits. It was quite common for monasteries and convents to use the leftover egg yolks to make cakes and pastries, resulting in the proliferation of sweet pastry recipes throughout the country.
Following the extinction of the religious orders and in the face of the impending closing of many of the convents and monasteries in the aftermath of the Liberal Revolution of 1820, the monks started selling Portuguese egg tarts at a nearby sugar refinery to secure some revenue. In 1834 the monastery was closed and the recipe was sold to the sugar refinery, whose owners in 1837 opened the Cafe Pastéis de Belém. The descendents own the business to this day.
Info credits: Wikipedia
4. Catch lovebirds at Belem Tower
Like the Jeronimos Monastery, the entrance to Belem Tower is also closed on Mondays. The park near Belem Tower was good enough for me. I found the Belem Tower a great place to chill and watch the world, and I’m sure it is by no coincidence that a number of lovebirds found it to be a great dating place too.
Hope you found this post useful. Please drop a comment if you have other suggestions on what to do in Belem.