Jeronimos Monastery is located in Belem, a parish of Lisbon close to the Targus river. To call it beautiful would be an understatement. I don’t care how jaded you are, you still need to visit on any Lisbon trip. Officially called the Hieronymites Monastery as well.
The Late Gothic architectural style is known as Manueline, a Portuguese version of the Gothic style, which incorporated maritime elements and objects brought to Portugal by famous explorers such as Vasco da Gama and Pedro Cabral. These elements mixed with the then traditional Mudejar , Italian, Flemish and Spanish influences make for a very interesting style that l found very pleasing to the eye. It became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983.
Jeronimos Monastery Belem Portugal: History
The monastery replaced the Santa Maria de Belem church which was used as a place for monks to assist seamen. King Manuel I ordered the commission of the monastery and was designated as a final resting place for the elite and royalty. It took 100 years to build and was financed with money realized from the very lucrative spice trade with Africa and India.
My original intention was to visit the church only because my interest was to actually see the tomb of Vasco da Gama. Seville as you know has a cathedral with the tomb of Christopher Columbus which l have written about before. This one is just as impressive. The monastery in Belem makes it the clear winner of the two. It’s just stunning.
Since we visited in the thick of summer, it was not only hot, but the line was absurdly long. In hindsight, we should have seen the monastery first because what we had originally thought was a short line was nothing compared to what it became by the time we exited the church. I’m glad however that we persevered as it was worth it. While in line, Federico saw one of his favorite Italian actors and got to take a picture, so he was happy (It’s one of those shows like “the office” but everyone stands in front of the water cooler only and seems to be hilarious).
Seeing the church and wandering about, I am constantly reminded of one of the greatest novels I’ve ever read, thanks to Nadeen. It’s by Ken Follett, called “Pillars of the Earth” It really brings everything to life, and you feel and understand the superb work that went into these historic magnificent places. I’m looking for naves and cloisters ;-) and had a good sense of how they accomplished it, thanks to the novel. An added layer of knowledge that l loved.
Belem Monastery: Grounds
WOW! Just wow! That’s all l can say. The monastery is constructed with a gold colored limestone (calcario de lioz) which was brought in from the valley of Alcantara in Spain. Depending on where you stood and time of day, the coloring seemed to shift. The cloisters were decorated so lavishly. Even the monks refectory was gorgeous. It seemed they lived in the grand style. The number of royalty and elite buried here are just too numerous. In addition to the king and Vasco da Gama, there are also notables like the poets Joao de Deus, Luis de Camoes and Sidonio Pais. It helped a lot that the signs were in English and Portuguese, otherwise we would have been lost.
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Hall of Kings at Jeronimos Monastery:
Henrique Ferreira was commissioned to paint portraits of the Kings of Portugal in 1720. There are a bunch of them and you could spend at least a couple of hours reading the history of each easily. We spent only about 40 minutes in there. It was pretty crowded.
After a visit to the Belem monastery, it is almost obligatory to walk down the street and join the throngs of people in line for that icon of Portugal, the Pastéis de Belem which is basically the famous pasteis de nata but made in Belem.
Pastel de Nata in Belem Portugal: (Pastéis de Belém)
Since this is egg tart pastry that Belem is famous for, we figured we’d give it a try here since everyone said you must try it if you go to Belem. The verdict? Federico loved it, absolutely loved it. Me? It was okay, nothing special, but then l’ve never been a big fan of custards except for breakfast. I’d rather have a Kit-Kat ;-) . Just not a big fan of desserts like that. There was an insane line outside the most famous pastry shop of course, but l suppose that is part of the whole experience, the anticipation. We skipped the line and went to a little cafe across the street to get it. Pretty sure he probably got it from across the street early in the morning. Wouldn’t you know that he did just that because we asked!
Getting to Jeronimos Monastery in Belem Portugal from Lisbon:
We took the Yellow bus line tour which dropped us off right there. I would recommend doing that as there really is no easy way of getting there. You could take a taxi because the metro doesn’t go there, or one of the old trams (No. 15) that go up the hill there. We thought of that, but good luck trying to find space on one!! You can also take a ferry there or the bus lines 727, 58, and 751.
Belem makes for a great day trip from Lisbon as you can see. It’s likely you will spend at least three hours here with the monastery, museum and church, and then of course depending on the crowds, it might be more. It’s a place l wouldn’t mind revisiting as there were some places we didn’t get to visit.
We paid €12 each for entrance to the monastery and museum of archaeology combination. Don’t bother with that museum. It was tiny and had like 6 things, not worth it at all, but it did have a nice bathroom :-)
Free admission to Jeronimos Monastery on the first Sunday of each month
Jeronimos Monastery hours : 10am – 5.30pm (Winter)
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What do you think of Jeronimo’s monastery in Belem? Would you like to visit it or is it too touristy for you? Are you a big fan of pastries such as the Pastel de Nata?