Portugal, and its inhabitants, have long had an affiliation with the sea and a determined ambition to explore. The ‘Age of Discovery’, as it is often called, spanned from 1415-1515 and was a time in which European adventurers embarked on naval expeditions across the ocean to discover new lands. Portugal was at the forefront of this new era and although not as widely talked about as Christopher Columbus, Henry the Navigator was a key figure in discovering foreign lands. Portugal’s capital city of Lisbon is the perfect place to see the legacy of this significant historic juncture. Here are the best maritime sights to visit when in Lisbon:
Originally the official place for the city’s explorers to come and go, this tower is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal, and a landmark definitely worthy of a visit when you are in town. The exterior is beautiful example of the Manueline era, a traditional Portuguese architectural style with lavish detailing. Buy a ticket to climb the narrow spiral staircase inside to go up to the roof terrace. If you are visiting the Jerónimos Monastery too (more on that further down the page) you can buy a combination ticket that grants you access to both.
Padrão dos Descobrimentos, which translates into ‘monument of discoveries’ is a statue erected to celebrate Portugal’s age of exploration. But it was quite a journey for the monument to have its permanent home on the bank of the Tagus River. The idea was born from architect José Ângelo Cottinelli Telmo and sculptor Leopoldo de Almeida back in 1939 and a temporary structure was made in the Praça do Império. It wasn’t until 1960 that a permanent version of the monument was commissioned and formed from cement, limestone and rose-tinted stone. It comprises of 33 different figures including Henry the Navigator, and the creation of this iconic statue coincided with the 500-year anniversary of his death. In 1985, permission was granted for visitors to alight to the top of the monument to survey the views, including the 50-meter compass rose made from limestone on the floor below.
Jerónimos Monastery is a religious building that actually has strong connections with Portugal’s maritime past. Some of the country’s greatest explorers would be drawn to this special building and many sailors would use this holy sanctuary to pray for their own safe return back to shore. In the western wing of the church, there is more naval history to be uncovered....
The Jerónimos Monastery is home to The Museu da Marinha, a museum dedicated entirely to the maritime history of Portugal. The collection was brought to fruition by King Luís I who was fascinated by the seas, but it was many years later, in 1963, when the vast selection of naval artefacts were officially turned into a maritime museum. Inside its walls today, visitors can discover 17,000 pieces, including breathtaking models of ships that used to sail in Portugal in the 15th century, as well as paintings, equipment and historical maps. Look out for the ‘flying boat’ which was Portugal’s first navy aircraft.