Portugal’s early discoverers stand prominently at the waterfront:
We were taught about Vasco da Gama and his early discoveries at school, but during those days I found the history lessons pretty dry and hard going. Between the heat of the afternoon tropical sun, our non-airconditioned classrooms, and history lessons that were so distant to our day-to-day lives, I wasn’t sure which was causing me doze off more. Had I known that one day I’ll be standing on the very spot where those early mariners set sail from Lisbon, I might have paid much more attention.
So here I am today at the Belem waterfront admiring this beautiful Monument to the Discoveries. Padrao dos Descobrimentos was built in 1960 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death of Henry the Navigator. Commissioned by the Salazar regime, it stands prominently on the Belem waterfront.
The monument recognizes all the people who participated in the development of the Portuguese Age of Discovery. The central figure behind Portuguese colonial expansion was Henry the Navigator. He was a pioneer of modern exploration which led to the discovery of the New World. On both sides of the Monument you’ll see stone statues of Portuguese heroes. On the eastern face for instance, the top five figures are :
(1) Henry the Navigator standing at the brow with a caravel in hand
(2) In a kneeling position is Afonso V, patron of the first explorers
(3) Vasco da Gama
(4) Pedro Alvares Cabral, discoverer of Brazil and,
(5) Magellan who crossed the Pacific in 1520.
Other celebrated individuals include Henry’s mother Philippa of Lancaster, a poet, painter, famous navigators, cartographers and kings.
There is a lift inside that takes you up to the sixth floor and then a flight of steps leads you to the top for a panoramic view of Belem. The basement level is used for exhibitions which are not all related to the Discoveries.
The Monument to the Discoveries is included in all Lisbon sightseeing tours. Some locals don’t like the ostentatious monument, but from a tourist attraction point of view, it’s iconic and looks really dramatic against the blue skies and water.