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belem tower, lisbon, portugal, unesco word heritage site lisbon, defense (2)

The tower rising from the river

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This is the website of travel writer, Michael Turtle. After working in broadcast journalism for a decade in Australia, Michael left Sydney to travel the world indefinitely and write about his discoveries.

Belem Tower, Lisbon

During a recent trip to Portugal, I passed through Lisbon. Unfortunately I was only there for a few waking hours and only slightly more sleeping hours. In many ways, it was disappointing. I had never been to Lisbon before and didn’t know much about the city but in the short time I was there, transiting as it was, the city inspired me. It teased me with its beauty and its bonhomie.

The only ‘sight’ I really had time to see was Belem Tower, the fortress that rises up from the Tagus River.

belem tower, lisbon, portugal, unesco word heritage site lisbon, defense (3)

The first iteration of the tower was built in the early 1500′s. It was designed as a fortress to stop any attack on Lisbon. Enemy boats which tried to make their way up the river would be met by a canon barrage from Belem Tower. Not always successfully, as it was to turn out… but at least it looked and sounded threatening!

belem tower, lisbon, portugal, unesco word heritage site lisbon, defense (1)

I had decided to walk there, along the side of the river, from the centre of Lisbon. Past the shipyards, under bridges, and between bikes that weaved around me. Until suddenly Belem Tower appeared, seemingly in the middle of the river. It was actually built on an island even further out in the water but changes in the river’s course of the centuries have brought it closer to the bank.

belem tower, lisbon, portugal, unesco word heritage site lisbon, defense (4)

Despite my time constraints, I had headed to this spot in particular because of its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As regular readers will know, I am trying to cross as many off the list as possible as I meander my way through the world (only 900 or so more to go! Until they add some new ones this year, that is… sigh).

If I’m being honest (which is the whole point of this blog), it was a little underwhelming. It’s certainly very pretty and photogenic but I wasn’t overly impressed by its history or its grandeur… at least not in comparison to many of the other sites I’ve visited. Still, it’s another box ticked. Onwards.

UNESCO world heritage site
This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. For more info click here.
You can see all the UNESCO World Heritage Sites I’ve visited here.

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26 Comments
  • Vera | Jan 4, 2013 at 12:50 pm

    Looks pretty cool, though – can you go in? Maybe you were just in a grumpy in-between-flights mood to find it underwhelming. You gotta do it right, man! Let me tell you how I had a hilarious few hours in the night/the wee hours during flights in Lisbon with my godmother. 1) I was 11. Someone else carries all responsibility and you don’t even know what to worry about. Highly recommended. 2) Food. Coffee. Found a café, had breakfast.Sat down, enjoyed the sunrise. Well, my godmother did. I didn’t drink coffee and I most certainly would not care about any adult exclamations about beautiful sunrises and sunsets. Adults were mainly crazy fools back then. 3) A passing dove pooped on my godmothers hair. Which is admittedly said to bring good luck, but it doesn’t really feel like that, when you have smelly poo right next to your face, and can’t wash it for the next 12+ hours or so.
    All in all, I had an awesome time in Lisbon, and always wanted to come back to explore. True story.
    Vera recently posted..The Black Temple of Chiang RaiMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Jan 14, 2013 at 3:27 pm

      Ha ha. Not just a true story, but a fantastic story!
      All I’m taking away from this is that, next time I’m in Lisbon, I should walk under lots of trees until I get bird poop on me. Then the day will feel like a glorious sunrise!

  • Cathy Sweeney | Jan 4, 2013 at 3:05 pm

    I can understand why you might have been disappointed because it looks like it would be super interesting! I haven’t been to Lisbon, but I’ve had those experiences where I only a few hours to spend in a place that teases me with its charm — makes me want to come back.
    Cathy Sweeney recently posted..Surfing in MunichMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Jan 14, 2013 at 3:29 pm

      I’m looking forward to going back sometime and spending a bit more time there. It certainly had a good feel to the place.

  • Molly | Jan 4, 2013 at 7:57 pm

    Thanks for your refreshing honesty. I saw this tower in Lisbon & spent 3 days in the city. I was also underwhelmed by Lisbon. I didn’t warm to its tired chic. I preferred visiting nearby Cascais & Sintra rather than the capital itself.

    • Michael Turtle | Jan 14, 2013 at 3:29 pm

      There are so many gems in Portugal, from what I hear. Lisbon would be a nice city for a base. I felt like you could feel at home there – but you might not want to spend too much time.

  • ANGLO/Dale | Jan 4, 2013 at 9:46 pm

    We’re both sitting in Melaka in Malaysia at the moment which is a UNESCO site. There’s actually a large Portuguese influence here from the colonnial days, but I don’t think we’ve seen a building we like here as much as the Belem Tower. Shame you didn’t find it too interesting, but you can’t like everything, right?
    ANGLO/Dale recently posted..Artful Adoption for Abandoned Houses in NaoshimaMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Jan 14, 2013 at 3:31 pm

      I guess it’s not that I didn’t find it interesting, just that I wasn’t sure of its worth on the heritage list. Maybe I’m becoming a bit cynical when I see so many amazing things in the world that aren’t on the list.

  • D.J. - The World of Deej | Jan 5, 2013 at 9:09 am

    Have always thought Belem was pretty cool. Hope to see it in person one day..
    D.J. – The World of Deej recently posted..Top of the Rock – A Billion Dollar View – Picture of the WeekMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Jan 14, 2013 at 3:34 pm

      It won’t take long to see.

  • Jennifer | Jan 7, 2013 at 11:22 pm

    The last few months I’ve felt underwhelmed by quite a few things in Europe. I think it is not so much the sights as that I’m really just needing more variety in my travels than mostly 3 years of traveling in Europe.
    Jennifer recently posted..Celebrating New Year’s Eve in ReykjavikMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Jan 14, 2013 at 8:33 pm

      It’s funny you say that because I feel the same if I spend too long in Europe. It’s an amazing place but it does lack some of the variety that other areas have.

  • Be On the Road | Jan 8, 2013 at 3:47 am

    picturesque backdrop….. very well articulated….
    Be On the Road recently posted..Rock Climbing at Dhauj, HaryanaMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Jan 14, 2013 at 8:33 pm

      Thanks – it is definitely a good spot for a photo! :)

  • Andrew | Jan 22, 2013 at 7:23 am

    We only got a few hours in Lisbon too, but we loved the city. We liked the vibe and the feel to the center. Unfortunately our trip out to Belem ended up being harried. We got lost getting out there and it ended up taking longer than we thought, so we didn’t have much time. I would have liked to have gone in and up it. I think that would have been neat. In the end, we just walked around it and got some sandwiches nearby. Then a hurried trip back to the train station to just barely make our train.

    I definitely want to go back to Lisbon. And the tower, but inside this time.
    Andrew recently posted..What can’t you get in Germany, than you can in the US?My Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Feb 6, 2013 at 12:38 am

      Yeah, I’m thinking I need to give Lisbon a lot more time when I get a chance again. I certainly liked the feel of the place – just didn’t have long enough to really appreciate it.

  • Escaping Abroad | Jan 24, 2013 at 1:48 pm

    Awesome shots! What a beautiful place to build a tower! Portugal is on my destination wishlist and you can bet I will be checking this out when I get there!
    Escaping Abroad recently posted..Photo of the Week – California Sunset & SurfersMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Feb 6, 2013 at 1:26 am

      Yeah, it’s actually pretty cool (despite my grumbling in this post). Definitely worth seeing when you’re in Lisbon.

  • Larissa | Apr 17, 2013 at 12:24 pm

    I missed this beautiful sight in Lisbon. . . I guess I was too busy eating pasteis de nata at Belem :p
    Larissa recently posted..Jerusalem, it’s complicatedMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 24, 2013 at 2:33 pm

      Ha – I would head for the food first too! :)

  • Nicole @ Green Global Travel | Jul 22, 2013 at 11:32 pm

    Incredible location for a tower.

    Sorry you were underwhelmed. Luckily there are 100s of castles / towers to choose from in Europe ;)
    Nicole @ Green Global Travel recently posted..TAHITI: Photos of Moorea 4×4 Safari TourMy Profile

  • Angela | Jul 25, 2013 at 5:19 pm

    Too bad you were only in Portugal for a short time. We were blessed to live their for 5 months (close to Portalegre in Reguengo). We LOVED it. But, we were ready for some down time for sure. Once the people trust you, they will do anything for you. I miss the friends we made, even though we do stay in touch by phone. We were only in Lisbon for one night, but had fun. It is a beautiful country. I would have liked to seen more of it and Europe, but we stuck close to home (other than a trip to the Algarve). Have fun on your adventures!! Thank you for sharing your travels.

  • Treiu | Jan 31, 2014 at 4:59 am

    I wonder what history you have read about the tower….

    This is not being about honest, if the tower is photogenic or not, of if is big or small.

    The tower is one of main symbols of the dawn of modern times, for all the good and bad things about it.

    That is, a period of new interest towards nature and scientific knowledge, a cultural, religious, military, global new age.

    All that aspects are represented in a unique way in the tower. That is the reason it belongs in the Unesco’s heritage list.

    I guess you didn’t “discover” them.

    • Michael Turtle | Feb 10, 2014 at 4:13 pm

      Very good points – thanks for the comment. The tower, as you say, is supposed to represent the Portuguese Age of Discovery which was extremely important to the way we see the world today. It’s important, I guess, to look beyond just bricks and mortar.

  • Célia | Feb 14, 2014 at 1:40 am

    The problem about just checking boxes on a list is that you don’t see other amazing things a city has to offer! Next time you come by with more time I will gladly make you a tour by other, 3 days is enough for Lisbon and surroundings.

    • Michael Turtle | Feb 17, 2014 at 12:06 pm

      Thank you for the offer! I agree that I need to give the city a bit more time. I actually really loved the vibe of the place and vowed to go back and check it out properly when I get a chance!

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