The Tower of Belém was built between 1515 and 1521 by Francisco d’Arruda, as a tribute to the city’s patron, Saint Vicente. In order to fortify Lisbon’s defences, King João II designed a triangular defence on the Tagus estuary. A defensive fortress was built on each corner, including the Tower of Belém, built over the water.
The tower has a Romanesque/Gothic structure but is rich in Moorish decorations, symbolizing the king’s power: cords that surround the building, ending in elegant knots, crosses of the Military Order of Christ and elements taken from nature, such as rhinoceroses (the earliest image of its kind known in Europe).
The tower is furnished with period furniture, while the upper terrace provides a spectacular view over the river Tagus and the sea. In time, following the construction of more modern and effective defensive structures, the Tower of Belém lost its defensive role. When Philip II of Spain was crowned king of Portugal in 1580 and during the uprisings, the tower was used as a political prison and some of the rooms were turned into dungeons. With the passing of time, the tower was used for other purposes (telegraph station and lighthouse).
In 1983, UNESCO gave the Tower of Belém world heritage status.