The best independent guide to Lisbon
The best independent guide to Lisbon
The Padrão dos Descobrimentos is a bold and imposing monument situated on the banks Tejo Estuary. The monument celebrates the 15th and 16th-century Portuguese explorers and visionaries, who established Portugal as the most powerful seafaring nation of the era.
The original Padrao dos Descobrimentos was constructed for the 1940 World Fair, as a wood and plaster structure, but the perishable materials meant it soon had to be dismantled. The current limestone, concrete and steel reincarnation dates from the 1960s, and commemorates the 500th anniversary of the death of Henry the Navigator (Infante Dom Henrique)
The 52-meter-high Padrão dos Descobrimentos dominates the shoreline of Belem, and from the viewing platform, are some of the finest panoramic views over the district and Tejo Estuary.
On the eastern side of the monument are statues of Portugal’s great explorers, while on the western side are the key supporters who empowered the 15th century “Age of Discovery”.
Related articles: Belem district – 2 days in Lisbon
For tourists, there are three aspects to the Discoveries Monument; the much-photographed exterior, the exhibition rooms and the viewing platform. The entrance fee to the museum and viewing platform is €10.00/€5.00 (adult/teenager), children under 12 are free, while the exhibit room entrance fee is €5.00/€2.50 (adult/teenager).
The monument is open from 10:00 to 19:00 in the summer and 10:00 to 18:00 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 is 20 minutes for exhibit rooms (which do vary) and 15 minutes for the viewing platform.
The Padrao dos Descobrimentos is situated in the Belem district, approximately 2.5km from central Lisbon. The best means of travel to Belem is by the E15 tram.
Our opinion: The view from the top of the Padrao dos Descobrimentos is one of the best in Belem and possibly Lisbon. In a northerly direction, you can see the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos and Praça do Império, to the east is the suspension bridge and to the west is the Torre de Belem.
Related articles: The E15 tram - The best viewpoints in Lisbon
Historical insight: The Portuguese romanticise the Age of Discovery, and the voyages in the tiny ships were bold and courageous, but they were also accompanied by extreme acts of savagery and brutality. In less than ten years (1501-1511) the Portuguese completely eliminated Arabic sea traders form the India Ocean and quelled kingdoms from Mozambique to Kerala, through fear and the strength of the Portuguese canon…
Infante Dom Henrique (1394 – 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 actual fact, Henrique never led any seafaring expeditions, 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 since 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 Africa coastline, during his reign. These costly voyages were much to the horror of his nobles, but they relented when gold and (sadly) slaves were traded. Much of Henry’s later life was spent at Sagres, at the south-western tip of Portugal and mainland Europe.
Related articles: Our guide to Sagres
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 hidden symbolism within the monument.
When viewed from the waterside the monument reflects that of a prow of a caravel ship, the boat Henry the Navigator is holding in his hands. The three swooping arches that dominate the side of the monument are the stylised version of sails, and again closely resemble the boat Henry is holding.
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, but when viewed closer a downward pointing sword can be clearly seen within the cross. This symbolism displays the close relationship between the sword and the cross; the 16th-century explorers would routinely use the sword to aid the spread of Christianity.
The carving of Pero da Escobar (also known as 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 claims 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 Belem. This rare limestone only comes from the hills of the Sintra region.
How about a small group tour?
One of the best ways to discover Lisbon and meet fellow travellers is to join a guided tour. We have worked with Getyourguide.com for the last six years, and some of their best tours of Lisbon include:
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 within the growing tensions of the world.
The original Padrao dos Descobrimentos was constructed from wood and plaster with the intention of being dismantled after the fair. During the later stages of Salazar's rule, there was a trend of 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 the death of Henry the Navigator and this celebration was embraced by Salazar. The figure of Henry the Navigator stands at the front of the monument, gazing out towards the Atlantic Ocean.
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