Even if you’re not a fan of churches, Jerónimos Monastery might well capture your imagination. Belém is one of Lisbon’s most attractive areas, fronting the River Tagus as it widens out into the Atlantic. This stretch of the river provided a safe harbour for shipping, and Santa Maria de Belém church regularly gave sanctuary to seafarers. It was already in a state of disrepair in 1497 when Vasco de Gama and his men spent the night there in prayer, before starting their voyage of discovery to India. Permission was obtained from the Vatican for construction of a monastery to replace it, and in 1501 building began.
It took 100 years till the monastery was complete, in a style that came to be known as Manueline, after King Manuel 1. The architecture is embellished beyond belief with symbols of the sea and nature- knots, anchors, shells, flowers. The king chose the Hieronymites, or order of St. Jerome, to occupy the monastery, and entrusted them with praying for his immortal soul and that of his successors. Funds came originally from the spice trades, but construction ceased with the death of the king in 1521. Several architects and sculptors were involved in the eventual completion of the monastery, which has been granted UNESCO World Heritage status.
The vast, ornate limestone building dominates Belém but it is the two tiered cloisters that truly astound. There are steps up to the second tier and, unless you have severe difficulty with stairs, I would recommend climbing them. Not only do you have unique views down into the central courtyard, and up at gargoyles and heads, but you can overlook the interior of the beautiful church.
Belém is easy to get to, by tram, bus or train from central Lisbon. You can book online, to avoid queuing, and full details are available on the monastery website. More photos from my visit are available on my own website “here.”:https://restlessjo.me/2017/12/21/mosteiro-dos-jeronimos-lisbon/
“Monastery of Jeronimos”:http://www.patrimoniocultural.gov.pt/en/museus-e-monumentos/dgpc/m/mosteiro-dos-jeronimos/