Lisbon – a modern architecture walk in Belém

Belém is a neighbourhood next to the River Tagus in western Lisbon. It’s famous as a museum district and as the location of many notable national monuments.

My two main reasons for going were firstly to visit the UNESCO World Heritage architecture of the Belém Tower and Jerónimos Monastery (see two previous posts), and secondly to make a pilgrimage to Pastéis de Belém, the café that gave birth to the famous Portuguese custard tart (see next post). There are however many other interesting things to see, particularly if you like modern architecture.

After the monastary and the tower, the next most famous monument is the Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument of the Discoveries), built to celebrate the Age of Discovery during the 15th and 16th centuries when Portuguese explorers departed from Belém to explore and trade with India and the Orient.

The monument was conceived in 1939 (by Portuguese architect José Ângelo Cottinelli Telmo, and sculptor Leopoldo de Almeida), to be a temporary part of the 1940 Portuguese World Exhibition. The original was demolished in 1943, but was rebuilt in 1958 as part of the celebrations of the fifth centennial of the death of Prince Henry the Navigator (the main initiator of the Age of Discovery).

Henry’s statue stands at the bow of the idealised ship while on each side of him, there are another 16 figures (so 33 in total) representing important figures (monarchs, explorers, cartographers, artists, scientists, missionaries) of the era.

Another impressive building is the old Tejo Power Station, now a cultural centre (Fundação EDP), which provided Lisbon with electricity for over forty years.

Right next door are the seductive modern curves of MAAT, the Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology.

It’s free to walk on the roof where you can get panoramic views of the iconic 25 de Abril Bridge. I’m told it’s a particularly atmospheric spot at sunset.

A little inland at 136 Avenida da Índia is the new Museo Nacional de Coches (National Coach Museum).

I particularly like the elegant brutalist staircase coming off the elevated walkway next to it.

Another building that attracted me was the Museu de Arte Popular, built in 1940 as a pavilion for the World Exhibition. The bas-reliefs at the front and the back are the most interesting features.

Also built purely for the 1940 World Exhibition is the Farol de Belém, a false lighthouse that has never worked.

There are a fair few Art Deco units dotted around including the Estação Fluvial Belém (river ferry terminal), the Edifício Espelho d’Água (a restaurant), the metro station, and an electricity substation next door.

Most of these buildings can be found on my map.

Custard tarts next!

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