| Iberian Adventure:
The Age of Discovery
Began in Belém
Story and photos by Tom Weber
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.
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).
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.
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.
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
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.
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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
the Decorative Cobble of Lisbon; Bem-vindo
(Welsome to Lisbon); Iberian
the Douro River, Portugal; 3
Things We Didn't Know About Portugal