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Belem
Iberian Adventure:
The Age of Discovery
Began in Belém
(Dispatch #4)

Story and photos by Tom Weber

Belem

uring the Age of Discovery, between the 15th and 17th centuries, when European maritime powers sailed off into unchartered waters in search of new lands and trade routes to enhance the coffers of their respective kings and queens, Belém, a bustling district of Lisbon, served as the anchors-aweigh point for Portugal's greatest high-seas expeditions.

Belém, Portuguese for Bethlehem, just happens to be the first of three stops planned for today for my "band of merry media" and I – 29 travel journalists and photographers invited along by Insight Vacations (Insight) to sample a portion of its Iberian Adventure through Portugal and Spain.

Helder, the Lisbon-born skipper of Insight's motor coach

While Helder, the Lisbon-born skipper of Insight's sleek, business-class legroom motor coach, drops anchor along the northern bank of the Tagus River, Laura, Insight's homegrown art-history expert, leads us down onto terra firma and begins the narrative on two of Belém's iconic structures: the Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries) and the Torre de Belém (Belém Tower).

Belem's iconic structures: the Monument to the Discoveries and the Belem Tower

The Belém Tower, also known as the Tower of St. Vincent, is a 16th century military fortification that was part of the defense system to protect the mouth of the Tagus River from invaders and also to serve as the ceremonial gateway into Lisbon.

the Belem Tower, also known as the Tower of St. Vincent

Today, the 30-foot tower, with its Manueline-style architectural ornamentation, is recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site and is also included in the registry of the Seven Wonders of Portugal.

figures from Portugal's illustrious maritime past at the Monument to the Discoveries

The Monument to the Discoveries, erected in 1960 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Henry the Navigator, the patron of Portuguese exploration, is a massive concrete slab that stands 52 meters tall.

Sculpted in the form of a ship's prow, the monument depicts dozens of figures from Portugal's illustrious maritime past.

more pictures of the Monument to the Discoveries

Standing here on the decorative mosaic pavement that frames large navigational maps – cartography that chronicles Portugal's contribution to the Age of Discovery – I can't help but wonder what it must have been like to be part of the crowd bidding farewell to the likes of Cabral, Corte Real, da Gama, Dias and Magellan as they raised anchor, sailed through the mouth of the Tagus, gliding past the Tower of Belém, and out into the vast Atlantic and the great unknown.

Iberian Adventure brochures from Insight Vacations

For complete information on Insight's premium and luxury-escorted itineraries, including the Iberian Adventure and 112 other journeys throughout Europe, just click HERE, or call toll free 1-888-680-1241, or contact your travel agent.

All present and accounted for, our Insight "galleon" navigates its way across the little town of Bethlehem heading towards yet another local landmark: Pasteis de Belém. See you in just a couple for an authentic Portuguese sugar rush.

Related Articles:
Walking the Decorative Cobble of Lisbon; Bem-vindo a Lisboa (Welsome to Lisbon); Iberian Adventure; Lisbon's Streetcars; Cruising the Douro River, Portugal; 3 Things We Didn't Know About Portugal




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Let Tom know what you think about his traveling adventure.

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Feedback for Destination Bosnia: Inside Sarajevo's Tunnel of Hope

Spent time in Sarajevo in the fall of 1973…beer was excellent!

--- David

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Hi Tom,

I must say, you're photographs are always amazing. They are top notch. You bring so much class to Traveling Boy. It's photographs like yours that make me want to go out and do my own traveling. Please don't get tired of sending us your amazing adventures. It's such a delight for the soul.

--- Raoul, Whittier, CA

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Hi Tom:

I'm also an American living in Italy. I've read with interest your blog and articles. I'd like to speak with you regarding residency and citizenship for Americans in Italy as you do seem to have a great deal of knowledge on all of these subjects. Would it be possible to give you a call on the phone? If so, please let me know how to reach you. If not, I can ask my questions via email.

Thank you!

--- David

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Hey Tom – Wow! Love those photos – they are so super that they make me A) Want to start eating NOW. B) Go there myself. C) See all that pristine beauty that looks so restful and peaceful. Great story, superb pix!!! Bravo!!

--- John, Los Angeles, CA

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Feedback for Destination Southwestern France: Saint-Émilion

Good job, Tom, and timely info. St. Émilion is in the list of places Jim Hayes and I will visit in September 2014. If we get the chance, we will exploit your experience to enhance the trip!

--- Bobby Harper, Dameron, MD

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Feedback for Vicenza Walks – Monte Berico

I lived in Vicenza for 4 years in the U.S. ARMY from 1963 to 1967. A wonderful place to explore. Palladio’s works are amazing. Have been back twice since and find new places to visit. My favorite is MONTE BERICO where I have some wonderful photos of my family.

--- Dr. Albert Pizzi, Hanover, MA

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I liked the new TB particularly the Vicenza article that took me back as a youth when we lived in Naples and travelled up there for a baseball tourney (U.S. Military Bases dependent schools played each other.)

Took me back to the plaza.

--- Bill

Feedback for A Canterbury Trail (Sutri)

Very interesting note. I have wedroned which route the early pre-Christian and Christian pilgrims travelled to Rome from England. Is it still possible to travel the Francigena trail?

--- Pawel

You can find out more info on walking tours of Via Francigena at this site: http://www.compagniadeicammini.it/en/. Thanks for stopping by and commenting..

Tom

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Good article, enjoyed reading it. Saved your recommended sights for future use.

--- Dardenne Prairie, MO

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You're going to be great at this Tom. Congrats.

--- Donna Vissa -Montreal



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As we dropped down to 25,000 feet I saw one of the most extraordinary panoramas I'd ever been lucky enough to witness. The majesty of it all and the stunning vistas that lay below and before me were spectacular. It was as beautiful as spring's first rose, and it made me understand why so many pilots on commercial jetliners love their job; they get to see so many awe-inspiring sights from the cockpit. My view was that of a vast vista of the Pacific.

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In the 1840s, the population of California was only 14,000, but by 1850 more than 100,000 settlers and adventurers had arrived from all over the world – and they came for one reason: gold. James Marshall had discovered the first gold nugget at Sutter’s Mill in El Dorado County, creating the largest gold rush in history.

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