The Jerónimos Monastery, also known as the Hieronymites Monastery, offers stunning views over the Tagus River, at the entrance of Lisbon harbor. The church of Jerónimos Monastery represented the last chance for sailors to pray for spiritual protection before they set out on the seas. The nearby Tower of Belém, built to commemorate Vasco da Gama's expedition, is a reminder of the great maritime discoveries that laid the foundations of the modern world.
The construction of Jerónimos Monastery
On this very same spot, Vasco da Gama prayed with his men before he set out on that voyage opening the first sea route to Asia in 1497. However, the church that was here then was in disrepair. The most famous Portuguese seafarer's successful trip contributed to motivating King Manuel I to move ahead with the current building we can now admire. Manuel's idea was also to erect a large monastery close to the site where Henry the Navigator had built a church dedicated to Santa Maria de Belém in the 15th century. In doing so, he was both perpetuating the memory of Henry and acknowledging his own great devotion to Our Lady and St. Jerome. The construction of Jerónimos Monastery took exactly one century, from 1501 to 1601. The king chose the religious order of Hieronymite monks (followers of St. Jerome) to run the monastery and they did indeed give spiritual guidance to sailors for centuries until the monastery was abandoned in 1833.
Portuguese art at its best
More than just a symbol of the exploration era and more than a home for religion, the monastery is also a treasure of architectural beauty. Intricately-carved decorations adorn the arches and vaulted ceilings. Take a closer look and you'll see a combination of religious symbols, royal imagery like the coat of arms, nautical themes, and elements of nature like plants and ropes. The Jerónimos Monastery exemplifies Portuguese art at its best. Enter the Church of Santa Maria through the western portal and discover its beautiful carvings, although not as dramatic as the southern portal. On the way out, don't forget to greet Portugal's greatest sailor, buried in the church he helped building, in a way. His tomb was sculpted in the 19th century and the remains of his body were moved here in 1880, nearly 400 years after his famous expedition.
Jerónimos Monastery, national symbol of Portugal
The Monastery is a cultural reference point that has attracted artists, chroniclers, and travelers during its five centuries of existence. It received and became a burial place for kings, and later poets. Today it is not only a remarkable piece of architecture, but also an integral part of Portuguese culture and identity. The Hieronymite Monastery was hence declared a National Monument in 1907 and in 1983 UNESCO classified it as a "World Heritage Site."
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