Tuesday, January 25, 2011
We spent two days checking out Belém, the departing point for voyages by explorers during the golden age like Vasco de Gama and Magellan. Belém is a short trolley ride from Lisboa, about 4 km away, with lots to see: the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, the Torre de Belém, the Monument to the Discoveries, the birthplace of our new favorite pastry, Pastel de Belem, and lots of other things we didn't quite make it to. The Mosteiro dos Jerónimos which survived the 1755 earthquake, is a breathtaking monastery built on the site of an old hermitage where Vasco prayed before his 1497 departure. Finished in 1551, the Manueline architecture is truly stunning with the cavernous domed ceiling and monstrous, ornately carved columns of the cathedral. It is awe-inspiring to see how, in the 1500's, they figured how to distribute the weight of the area of such a huge ceiling down the columns. My words cannot do it justice. As we gawked at the huge area suspended over our heads, we could tell that they had come a long way from the Lisboa Sé built in 1180. The cloisters were, I am running out of adjectives here, I want to say breathtaking, but I already said that, and then stunning comes to mind but, again I used that already, and magnificent, well magnificent doesn't really sound like a word I really ever say, so I am going to go with stunning again. So the cloisters really were quite stunning, so delicate and white with ornately carved water spouts of tiger, monkey, grasshopper, and gargoyle heads, with some poky points sprinkled in here and there, simply stunning. This is the part where you are thinking that maybe this is why I am a photographer and not necessarily a writer, maybe you should just reference the photos here because I am truly not doing it justice and maybe the photos aren't either, but you will get a better idea there. BUT, I digress.
Next stop was another earthquake survivor, the Torre de Belém built between 1515-1520 as a defensive outpost to protect Lisboa, it was one of the last sights explorers saw as they sailed out on their journeys. Manueline in its architecture, it was beautiful to wander around inside exploring the dungeons below that held political prisoners, to the top of the tower where little boy eyes kept watch for enemy ships on the water below, and all of the nooks, crannies and turrets, where many imaginary cannons were launched from, in between. It's really amazing to have the opportunity to see these gorgeous things and even more brilliant to see your kids frolicking amongst them...truly mind-blowing.
Somewhere in between, we strolled through a park which, much to all of our delight, had grass and trees, something we did not see a lot of in Lisboa as it is mostly paved over with exquisitely patterned black and white cobblestones, courtesy of prisoners of days past. But being nature people, we can't help but to miss the natural green stuff. The boys delighted in climbing around in a tropical tree we found there, each of them finding a comfy spot that they could just hang out in. After all of the splendor that we saw in Belém, this was Aaron's favorite, with phrases like, "I always wanted to visit a jungle," excitedly proclaimed as he clambered through the branches. There is definitely something to be said for the simple pleasures of nature.
Click here for an overload of photos.