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Padrão dos Descobrimentos; the Monument of the Discoveries, Lisbon

The Padrão dos Descobrimentos is a grand monument celebrating Portugal's 15th-century ‘Age of Discovery.’ During this era, brave seafarers and explorers established Portugal as the most powerful seafaring nation of the time.

The Discoveries Monument stands along the banks of the Tejo Estuary and was originally constructed for the 1940 World Fair, held in the Belém district of Lisbon. The initial structure, made of wood and plaster, was never intended to be permanent and was dismantled after the event. In the 1960s, the monument was reconstructed using limestone, concrete and steel to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death of Henry the Navigator (Infante Dom Henrique).

The Padrão dos Descobrimentos dominates the shoreline of Belém, standing 52 metres high. At the top of the monument is a small viewing platform, offering some of the finest panoramic views of the Belém district and the Tejo Estuary.

 

 

The Discoveries Monument symbolises a Portuguese caravel ship. Depicted along both sides of the monument are prominent explorers and notable individuals from the Age of Discovery, with Henry the Navigator at the front. Found among these figures are numerous hidden symbols and elements of Portuguese patriotism, which without direction can easily be overlooked.
Related articles: A guide to the Belem district

Padrão dos Descobrimentos Monument of the Discoveries,  Lisbon

The Padrão dos Descobrimentos as seen from the Tejo Estuary

Padrão dos Descobrimentos tourist information

The Padrão dos Descobrimentos is situated in the Belém district at GPS: 38.6936, -9.205 (link to Google Maps). The best means of travel to Belem is by the E15 tram.

When visiting the monument, you can explore three main areas: the exterior, the exhibition rooms, and the viewing platform. For many visitors, just seeing the exterior is sufficient; however, the viewpoint does provide one of the best views of the Belém waterfront.

The entrance fee for the exhibition and viewing platform is €10 for adults, €5 for seniors (65+) and €5 for young people (ages 13 to 25). Children under 12 can enter for free. If you only wish to view the exhibit rooms, the entrance fee is €5 for adults, €4.30 for seniors, and €2.50 for young people.

The monument is open from 10am to 7pm in the summer and 10am to 6pm in the winter, with the last admission being 30 minutes before closing time. During the winter season, the monument is closed on Mondays. A typical visit takes around 20 minutes for the exhibit rooms (which do vary) and 15 minutes for the viewing platform.

Padrão dos Descobrimentos view

The view westwards looking towards the Torre de Belem from the top of the Padrão dos Descobrimentos

Padrão dos Descobrimentos Monument of the Discoveries,  Lisbon

The bold shape of the Padrão dos Descobrimentos might seem out of place in historic Belém, but the monument is actually constructed from the same limestone used to build the Torre de Belém and the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos.

Hidden symbolism within the Discoveries Monument

The ‘Austere Classicism’ design of the Padrão dos Descobrimentos may initially appear as an overly powerful statement monument, but there are many clever artistic features and much hidden symbolism to be found upon the structure.

When viewed from the waterside, the monument resembles the prow of a caravel ship. This is the boat that the figure of Henry the Navigator is holding in his hands. The three swooping arches that dominate the side of the monument are stylised versions of sails, again closely resembling the boat Henry is holding.

Padrão dos Descobrimentos Monument of the Discoveries,  Lisbon

Henry is holding a caravel ship

When the Padrão dos Descobrimentos is viewed from the rear, as seen from the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, it takes the form of a Latin cross. However, when viewed from closer up, a downward-pointing sword can be clearly seen within this.

This symbolism displays the close relationship between the sword and the cross, with the 16th-century explorers routinely using the sword to aid the spread of Christianity.

Padrão dos Descobrimentos Monument of the Discoveries,  Lisbon

The rear of the Padrão dos Descobrimentos with the icon on the sword extending for much of its length

The carving of Pêro da Covilhã on the western side holds the flag of the Order of Christ, the Portuguese sect of the Knights Templar. This powerful and influential religious order, based in the town of Tomar, most likely funded the initial 15th-century expeditions devised by Henry the Navigator.

On the eastern side of the statue, Bartolomeu Dias and Diogo Cao can be seen struggling with a Padrão. These stone pillars were planted by Portuguese explorers to lay claim to new lands and were inscribed with the Portuguese coat of arms. Diogo Cao planted a Padrão at Cape Cross (Angola) in 1486, while Bartolomeu Dias sailed around the southern tip of Africa and laid one at the mouth of the Boesmans River (South Africa) in 1488.

All of the statues are carved from Lioz limestone, the same material used for the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos and the Torre de Belém. This rare limestone only comes from the hills of the Sintra region.

Who are all the figures in the Padrão dos Descobrimentos?

The eastern side of the Padrao dos Descobrimentos portrays the seafaring explorers of the ‘Age of Discovery’. As you view this side of the monument, you are facing westward down the Tejo Estuary towards the open sea, just as these explorers once did when they departed from Lisbon.

Interesting features include King Afonso V (2) kneeling, representing the Portuguese monarchy's support of the highly expensive expeditions. Vasco da Gama (3), who discovered the sea route to India, stands behind the king. Ferdinand Magellan (5) is also commemorated here, as although he circumnavigated the globe under Spanish patronage, he was Portuguese. Bartolomeu Dias (11) and Diogo Cão (12) are shown moving a Padrão.

east side Padrão dos Descobrimentos figures

Key: 1) Infante D. Henrique (Henry the Navigator) 2) Afonso V of Portugal (King of Portugal) 3) Vasco da Gama (discovered the sea route to India) 4) Pedro Álvares Cabral (discovered Brazil) 5) Ferdinand Magellan (first to circumnavigate the globe) 6) Nicolau Coelho (navigator) 7) Gaspar Corte Real (discovered Greenland and Newfoundland) 8) Martim Afonso de Sousa (navigator) 9) João de Barros (chronicler) 10) Estêvão da Gama (captain) 11) Bartolomeu Dias (discovered the Cape of Good Hope) 12) Diogo Cão (first to reach the Congo River) 13) António de Abreu (navigator) 14) Afonso de Albuquerque (second Viceroy of India) 15) Saint Francis Xavier (missionary saint) 16) Cristóvão da Gama (captain)

The western side depicts the financiers and supporters of the ‘Age of Discovery’. When viewing this side of the monument, you are looking down the Tejo Estuary towards Lisbon, signifying that these figures were not explorers. Notable features include Pêro da Covilhã (9) holding a Templar flag, reflecting his connections with the Order of Christ, as well as poet Luís de Camões (12) with his manuscripts. Philippa of Lancaster (16) is the only female on the monument and was the mother of Henry the Navigator.

west side Padrão dos Descobrimentos figures

Key: 1) Infante D. Henrique (Henry the Navigator) 2) Fernando (son of King João I) 3) João Gonçalves Zarco (navigator) 4) Pêro de Alenquer (naval-pilot) 5) Gil Eanes (navigator) 6) Pedro Nunes (mathematician) 7) Pêro Escobar (naval-pilot) 8) Jácome de Mallorca (cartographer) 9) Pêro da Covilhã (explorer) 10) Gomes Eanes de Zurara (chronicler) 11) Nuno Gonçalves (painter) 12) Luís de Camões (Poet) 13) Henry of Coimbra (Franciscan missionary) 14) Gonçalo de Carvalho (Dominican missionary) 15) Fernão Mendes Pinto (explorer) 16) Filipa de Lencastre (Queen of Portugal) 17) Infante Pedro (son of King João I of Portugal)

Henry the non-navigator…

Infante Dom Henrique (1394 to 1460) is commonly bestowed the title of ‘Henry the Navigator’ and is the key figure on the Padrão dos Descobrimentos, supported by both sets of characters on the east and west side of the monument.

In fact, Henrique never led any seafaring expeditions, having only crossed to Morocco once, and was not even a sailor or cartographer. The term ‘the navigator’ only appeared in conjunction with Henry’s name from the 19th century, after it was made popular by German and British historians.

Though Henry was no navigator, he gained his historical reputation by funding expeditions along the West African coastline during his reign. Much of Henry’s later life was spent in Sagres, at the south-western tip of Portugal and mainland Europe.

Historical insight: The Portuguese romanticise the Age of Discovery, and the voyages in these tiny ships were bold and courageous. However, they were also accompanied by extreme acts of savagery and brutality. In less than ten years (1501 to 1511) the Portuguese completely eliminated Arabic sea traders from the Indian Ocean and quelled kingdoms from Mozambique to Kerala, through fear and the strength of the Portuguese canon.

The Rosa dos Ventos world map mosaic

In front of the Padrão dos Descobrimentos is a beautiful 50-metre-wide mosaic depicting a rose compass, with a central map illustrating all the countries Portugal sailed to during the 16th century. This intricate artwork, known as the Rosa dos Ventos, was installed in 1960 as a gift from South Africa in commemoration of the 500th anniversary of Henry the Navigator's death on November 13, 1460.

Rosa dos Ventos world map mosaic Lisbon

The Rosa dos Ventos as seen from the top of the Padrão dos Descobrimentos

History of the Padrão dos Descobrimentos

The Padrao dos Descobrimentos was originally built as a temporary centrepiece for the World Fair of 1940 that was hosted by Lisbon. This event was intended to increase trade during the harsh years of depression and for Portugal to enhance its position of neutrality amid the growing tensions in the world. The original monument was constructed from wood and plaster, with the intention of it being dismantled after the fair.

During the later stages of the Estado Novo dictatorship, there was a trend for romantic idealisation of Portuguese history and the Discoveries Monument was converted to a permanent feature.

The re-fabrication was completed in 1960 to coincide with the 500th anniversary of Henry the Navigator's death, and this celebration was embraced by the patriotic Estado Novo dictatorship. The figure of Henry the Navigator stands at the front of the monument, gazing out towards the Atlantic Ocean.

Why were each of the figures import to the Portuguese age of discovery?
Portuguese age of discovery Lisbon

1) Infante D. Henrique, commonly known as Henry the Navigator, was a pivotal figure in the early days of the Portuguese Age of Discovery. He sponsored numerous expeditions along the African coast, leading to significant discoveries and the establishment of a sea route to India.

2) Infante Fernando, also known as Fernando the Saint Prince, was a younger son of King João I. Despite being less known for exploration, he played a crucial role in the Portuguese campaigns in North Africa and was captured during the Siege of Tangier, later dying in captivity.

3) João Gonçalves Zarco was an intrepid navigator who discovered and settled the island of Madeira. His exploration efforts significantly contributed to the Portuguese colonization of the Atlantic islands.

4) Pêro de Alenquer was a distinguished naval pilot who guided Vasco da Gama on his historic voyage to India. His navigational skills and experience were crucial in overcoming the challenges of the long sea journey.

5) Gil Eanes was a pioneering navigator who was the first to sail beyond the dreaded Cape Bojador. His successful voyage marked a significant breakthrough in Portuguese exploration, paving the way for further expeditions along the African coast.

6) Pedro Nunes was a brilliant mathematician and cosmographer whose work on navigation and cartography significantly advanced maritime exploration. His inventions and theories improved navigational techniques, making sea voyages safer and more precise.

7) Pêro Escobar was a skilled naval pilot and explorer who played a crucial role in the discovery of the Gulf of Guinea. His expertise in navigation helped expand Portuguese influence along the West African coast.

8) Jácome de Mallorca was a renowned cartographer whose maps greatly contributed to the Age of Discovery. His detailed and accurate charts helped navigators explore uncharted waters with greater confidence.

9) Pêro da Covilhã was a skilled explorer and diplomat who undertook secret missions to gather intelligence in the Middle East and India. His reports were instrumental in planning Vasco da Gama's successful sea route to India. He holds the Knights Templar flag and had close connections to the Order of Christ.

10) Gomes Eanes de Zurara was a prominent chronicler whose works provide a detailed account of the early Portuguese explorations. His chronicles, such as the ‘Chronicle of the Discovery and Conquest of Guinea’, are invaluable historical documents.

11) Nuno Gonçalves was a master painter of the Portuguese Renaissance, renowned for his detailed and expressive works. His most famous piece, the ‘Saint Vincent Panels’, captures the spirit of this era and provides a window into 15th-century Portugal.

12) Luís de Camões is Portugal's greatest poet, best known for his epic work ‘Os Lusíadas’, which celebrates Portuguese explorations. His literary genius and adventurous life, including his own travels to Asia, make him a central figure in Portuguese culture.

13) Henry of Coimbra was a Franciscan missionary known for his efforts to evangelize in North Africa. His work laid the foundations for future missions and his legacy includes fostering cultural exchanges between Europe and Africa.

14) Gonçalo de Carvalho was a dedicated Dominican missionary who worked tirelessly to spread Christianity. His missions took him to distant lands where he endeavoured to convert and educate indigenous populations.

15) Fernão Mendes Pinto was an adventurous explorer and writer whose travels took him throughout Asia. His book, ‘Peregrinação’, provides a vivid and often exaggerated account of his adventures, offering valuable insights into the 16th-century Asian world.

16) Filipa de Lencastre, an English princess who became Queen of Portugal, was the mother of Henry the Navigator. Her marriage to King João I strengthened Anglo-Portuguese ties and her pious and intellectual upbringing deeply influenced her children, especially Henry.

17) Infante Pedro, the son of King João I, was a notable prince and statesman. He played a crucial role in the administration of Portugal and was known for his extensive travels across Europe, which broadened his perspectives and influenced his governance.

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