Monday, 26 October 2009

Lisbon 5 - Belem

I took a bus ride from the centre down river to the area of Lisbon called Belem, beautifully laid out beside the river.

This is the place from where the great Portugese explorers set sail, particularly Vasco de Gama on his journey to India, and the place is rich with history and commemorative plaques.

Particularly notable is the Monument to the Discoveries, a tall concrete memorial created in 1960. It is shaped into a prow of a ship and lined with statues of explorers.

One of the things you have to do as a tourist here is eat ‘pastéis de Belem’ the famous local custard tart made with flaky pastry. I have to admit I had one every morning with my espresso, wherever I was; standing at a bar, the two always cost less than 2 euros. How much do we pay for a coffee and pastry at Starbucks or similar places over here?

In the centre of the town lies the Cultural Centre of Belem, designed by architects Vittorio Gregotti and Manuel Salgado, and completed in 1992. It is a major arts complex with facilities for opera and ballet, conferences and exhibitions, and high quality art galleries.

For such a major complex, it is remarkably low-rise. I imagine the large volumes of the two auditoria and stages must be sunk well underground. From a distance I thought it might be concrete but close up you can see and appreciate the beautiful riven stone finish in many colours. I think it is very successful, although internally I could only view the art galleries, not the major performance spaces.

High up on the south bank of the wide river Tagus the statue Cristo Rei overlooks the river and the city. The bridge is the Ponte 25 de Abril. Photographs of Belem and surroundings are here.

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