It is July 1497, the 1st Voyage of Vasco da Gama to India beggins in Belem. Let's trace it!
After decades of sailors trying to reach the Indies, with thousands of lives and dozens of vessels lost in shipwrecks and attacks, Vasco da Gama, a Portuguese explorer was the first European to reach India by sea. His initial voyage to India (1497–1499) was the first to link Europe and Asia by an ocean route, connecting the Atlantic and the Indian oceans and therefore, the West and the Orient, ushering in a new era of globalisation. This was to be the longest maritime journey of its time, giving the Portuguese crown unopposed access to the Indian spice routes therefor boosting the economy of the Portuguese Empire.
On 8 July 1497 Vasco da Gama led a fleet of four ships with a crew of 170 men from Restelo in Lisbon, most likely from a location near to where the Monument of Discoveries and Tower of Belem is today. Let's start here:
The Prince Henry the Navigator (1394-1460)
Enlightened by the Holy Spirit, born and raised in divine mysteries,
leads the generation of explorers into the "Age of Discovery".
At the mouth of the Tagus River, where Portuguese ships departed to explore and trade with India and the Orient, the monument celebrates "Age of Discovery" during the 15th and 16th centuries. The monument was conceived in 1940 by Portuguese architect Jose Angelo Cottinelli Telmo, and sculptor Leopoldo de Almeida, as a temporary beacon during the Portuguese World Exhibition and in 1960 a permanent monument was constructed as a part of the commemorations to celebrate the fifth centennial of the death of Infante Henry the Navigator.
EAST: Afonso de Albuquerque (Governor of Portuguese India), Bartolomeu Dias (First to sail beyond the southern tip of Africa, past the Cape of Good Hope), Diogo Cão (First to reach the Congo), Francis Xavier (Missionary in Asia), Martim Afonso de Sousa (The first Royal Governor of Brazil), Vasco da Gama (Discoverer of the sea route to India), Afonso Gonçalves Baldaia (Explorer and one of the first settlers of the Azores), Cristóvão da Gama (Explorer and Vasco da Gama's son), Estêvão da Gama (Explorer and Vasco da Gama's son), Gaspar Corte-real (Discoverer of Greenland), Nicolau Coelho (Explorer who accompanied Vasco da Gama and Cabral), António de Abreu (First to reach the Moluccas, Timor and possibly Australia), King Afonso V (King from 1438 to 1481), Ferdinand Magellan (The first explorer to circumnavigate the Earth), João de Barros (Writer and historian), Pedro Álvares Cabral (Discoverer of Brazil).
WEST: Queen Filipa de Lencastre (Mother of Prince Henry the Navigator), Frei Henrique de Coimbra (Accompanied Pedro Alvares Cabral, and celebrated the first Mass in Brazil), Infante D. Fernando (Prince Henry the Navigator's brother), Jácome de Maiorca (Cartographer), Nuno Gonçalves (Painter), Pêro de Alenquer (Piloted the ship S. Gabriel, captained by Vasco da Gama, when traveling to India), Fernão Mendes Pinto (Writer), Gil Eanes (The first to sail beyond Cape Bojador), João Gonçalves Zarco (Settler of the Madeira islands), Pedro Nunes (Mathematician), Pêro de Escobar (Discoverer of São Tomé islands), Frei Gonçalo de Carvalho (Missionary in India), Gomes Eanes de Zurara (Chronicler), Infante D. Pedro (Prince Henry the Navigator's brother), Luís Vaz de Camões (Poet, author of The Lusiads), Pêro da Covilhã (Diplomat in Asia).
LISBON'S "THE AGE OF DISCOVERY" TIP:
Behind the Monument of Discoveries, you can see THE VASCO DA GAMA BRIDGE built over the Tagus River. It is the longest bridge in the European Union, and It is the second longest bridge in Europe after the Crimean Bridge, and the longest bridge entirely within Europe.[a] It was built to alleviate the congestion on Lisbon's 25 de Abril Bridge, and eliminate the need for traffic between the country's northern and southern regions to pass through the capital city. Construction began in February 1995, the bridge was opened to traffic on 29 March 1998, just in time for Expo 98, the World's Fair that celebrated the 500th anniversary of the discovery by Vasco da Gama of the sea route from Europe to India.
The best closest view you will get from the roof of the Lisbon’s modern icon, the new building of the MAAT: Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology. It is a short walk towards the city center along the Tagus River.
More: MONUMENT OF THE DISCOVERIES >>
More: SPIRITS OF DISCOVERIES >>
It looks like a small fairytale castle rising from the river, but this tower was built in 1515 as a beacon and fortress to guard the entrance to Lisbon’s harbor. It also served as a prison, and as the departure point for many of the “voyages of discovery” that took Portugal’s navigators to previously uncharted territories. It marks the place from where Vasco da Gama begun his voyage to India.
LISBON'S "THE AGE OF DISCOVERY" TIP:
Check Google Arts & Culture online guides: 500 YEARS OF HISTORY - TOWER OF BELEM (Audio Tour) >> and TOWER OF BELEM (Slide Show) >>
On the right side of the Belem Tower, you can find the MILITARY MUSEUM situated in the fort constructed in 1780 and visit the MONUMENT TO THE OVERSEAS COMBATANTS, built in 1994. Two black-and-white pillars rise out of the clear waters of a public lake, forming an incomplete inverted triangle. An eternal flame sits under the point where the pillars would meet. According to some interpretations, the lake symbolises the oceans that separated many of the combatants from their homeland, while the pillars act as a metaphor for unity. The implication is that those who served came from different backgrounds and practiced different religions, but all made the same sacrifice.
To the west is the CHAMPALIMAUD CENTER FOR THE UNKNOWN, whose terraces offer a view of the tower.
More: BELEM TOWER >>
The Hermitage of Restelo was already in disrepair when Vasco da Gama and his men spent the night in prayer there before departing on their expedition to the Orient in 1497. The canonical foundations of the Monastery of Santa Maria de Belém were established in 1496 at the hermitage, which belonged to the Order of Christ. Two years later, the buildings were donated by royal proclamation to the Order of Saint Jerome, which occupied them in 1499.
Between 1513-1545, King Manuel I acquired lands and buildings for the new monastery in Belém. On 20 March 1514, the first round of construction began with the excavation, transport, and assembly of the stonework to build the Church of Santa Maria de Belém. The main entrance to the hermitage designed by Armillary sphere, heraldry associated with the Age of Discoveries and the personal symbol of King Manuel I of Portugal.
"Lord God, you called Saint Nuno Álvares Pereira to put aside his sword and follow Christ under the Patronage of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Through his prayers may we too deny ourselves, and devote ourselves to you with all our hearts. We ask this through Christ, Our Lord."
On the way from the Belem Tower to the Restelo Hermitage, you will pass the statue of D. Nuno Álvares Pereira (1360-1431), Portuguese general of great success who had a decisive role in the 1383-1385 Crisis that assured Portugal's independence from Castile. He later became a mystic and was beatified by Pope Benedict XV, in 1918, and canonised by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009. His faith and dedication was inspiration for many explorers.
A statue of Prince Henry the Navigator welcomes visitors of the Maritime Museum at the entrance, behind him is a map of the world, showing the routes of the Portuguese explorers. The first room is entirely dedicated to the “Portuguese Discoveries,” with displays in Portuguese and English explaining the story of the worldwide expeditions. The museum shows Lisbon's and Portugal's pioneering roles in the exploration of the oceans. It includes model ships from the Age of Discovery, portable altar and a wooden figure representing the Archangel Raphael that accompanied Vasco da Gama on his voyage to India, ancient globes, old maps showing the world as it was then known.
LISBON'S "THE AGE OF DISCOVERY" TIP:
Tracing the Age of Discovery steps visit also other museus such as HISTORY MUSEUM, ORIENT MUSEUM, ANCIENT ART MUSEUM, MILITARY MUSEUM, MONEY MUSEUM, to reach many of them you can follow the route of the TRAM 15E.
More: MARITIME MUSEUM >>
The Jeronimos Monastery replaced the church formerly existing in the same place, which was dedicated to Santa Maria de Belém and where the monks of the military-religious Order of Christ provided assistance to seafarers in transit. The harbour of Praia do Restelo was an advantageous spot for mariners, with a safe anchorage and protection from the winds, sought after by ships entering the mouth of the Tagus.
The existing structure was inaugurated on the orders of Manuel I (1469–1521) at the courts of Montemor o Velho in 1495, as a final resting-place for members of the House of Aviz, in his belief that an Iberian dynastic kingdom would rule after his death. In 1496, King Manuel petitioned the Holy See for permission to construct a monastery at the site. The Hermitage of Restelo, as the church was known, was already in disrepair when Vasco da Gama and his men spent the night in prayer there before departing on their expedition to India in 1497.
Lisbon’s greatest monument should not be missed by anyone visiting the city. It’s a monastery from the Age of Discovery, with a magnificent church and cloisters unlike any other in the world. It’s a masterpiece of Manueline (Portuguese Gothic) architecture, with sculpted details inspired by the lands and cultures encountered by the Portuguese navigators.
The church features tree-trunk-like columns that seem to grow into the ceiling, and holds the tombs of explorer Vasco da Gama and 15th-century poet Luís de Camoes. Its vaulting is considered one of the most extraordinary examples of the technology of Gothic architecture in Europe, although the style is really called “Manueline,” a Portuguese Gothic that developed under the reign of King Manuel I. The entire monastery is a remarkable masterpiece of Manueline architecture, with ornamentation mixing naturalistic elements and religious and royal symbols. The former dormitory of the Jeronimos Monastery is now divided into two museums: the National Archaeology Museum and the Maritime Museum.
LISBON'S "THE AGE OF DISCOVERY" TIP:
If you would like to experiance spiritual atmosphere of the Jeronimos Monastery visit it during the evening mass, entrance is free everyday at 19:00.
The Jeronimos Monastery monks prayed for the king’s soul, but also they were responsible for the recipe of the famous custard tarts (the “pastéis de Belém” or “pastéis de nata”), that are sold at a pastry shop PASTEIS DE BELEM down the street and now available all over Portugal and the world. Down the road you will find also other traditional and modern restaurants, some of them situated 15th and 16th century houses in RUA VIERA PORTUENSE.
More: JERONIMOS MONASTERY >>
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