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Portugal, part two

May 6th, 2006 (03:14 pm)

The second day's expedition was to Belem, a former port and town in its own right, now within Lisbon's city boundaries, closely associated with Portugal's maritime expansion in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The exploration party this time was a smaller one, consisting of myself pellegrina, na_lon and the_marquis.

This was probably the wettest day of the week, and I was glad of my venerable blue waterproof. Belem is the home of several major museums, and oour first port of call was the Maritime Museum, situated in the west wing of the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos. We didn't get round all of it; I recall several models of ships, several items of furniture or boxes from India, China and South America, and portraits of Portuguese viceroys of India from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. There were also a few rooms from the last royal yacht, reconstructed in the museum after the yacht was scrapped, offering a glimpse into the Portuguese royal existence at the turn of the twentieth century. King Carlos's sitting room. To the west of the Mosteiro building, an extension had been added in the 1950s or 1960s, by the style of the architecture, which housed several royal barges - including one built in the 1790s for the marriage of the future King Joao VI, and last used when Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom visited Lisbon in 1957 - as well as fishing boats and a few aeroplanes, including the first aeroplane used by the Portuguese marine, the Schreck, conjuring up images of a green-skinned ogre and a gaunt, pale-skinned vampire as co-pilots.

Lunch for me consisted of a custard tart, as it's rare to find a sandwich in Portugal without ham in it. A long walk through the drizzle along a dual carriageway - with a railway line in between the carriageways - and a walk over the footbridge to the Torre de Belem, built on the orders of Manuel I of Portugal at the start of the sixteenth century in order to guard the approach to Lisbon from the mouth of the Tagus in the early sixteenth century.

Some of the passages inside were very narrow, as the Marquis will now demonstrate!

The dimensions of the doors to the sentry chambers were also small:

One of the exterior features is the much-weathered head of a rhinoceros, brought to Lisbon in the sixteenth century, which sadly drowned in the Tagus when the vessel carrying it was shipwrecked. Its body was rescued and stuffed for exhibition.

Following the Torre we walked back along the river in the hope of sampling what the Los Angeles Times has called the Holy Grail of Portuguese sweets, Pasteis de Belem, at their home establishment, but the queue was long and I hadn't yet realised that there were so many rooms at the back, where that Saturday afternoon I suspect that we might have been able to find a seat. Na'Lon and the Marquis left, as Na'Lon had to rehearse for her involvement in the next day's events, but Pellegrina and I went to the Mosteiro, seeing the Tomb of Vasco da Gama amid other examples of the interior, and also inspecting the cloister. The old library (sadly long stripped of its books) had an impressive timeline of Portuguese history, with one side of the curving display boards in Portuguese, the other in English. There was also a list of Portuguese monarchs, where I noted the convention that every king has a nickname, the last, Manuel II, being 'the Patriot', and all had the prefix 'Dom' except the three who were also and firstly kings of Spain, and so perhaps are less deserving of respect, being intruders.


Posted by: wellinghall (wellinghall)
Posted at: May 7th, 2006 09:55 am (UTC)

Thanks for this. I chose to sit and vegetate the afternoon that Creatrix went to Belem; a strange decision, and one I have been regretting ever since.

Posted by: Adilo Creamon (the_marquis)
Posted at: May 7th, 2006 11:14 am (UTC)

Ah yes that lovely wet day, at some point I'd like to go and do the rest of the Maritime museum and the rest of the monastery museum complex.

Hmm, must finish my write up and post my pix too.

Posted by: wellinghall (wellinghall)
Posted at: May 7th, 2006 11:23 am (UTC)

"Ah yes that lovely wet day"

At one point, I was sitting with DutchArchitectureStudent in a bus shelter, and the rain was so heavy I *still* needed the umbrella she had leant me.

In what has to be classed as a very strange decision, she and ExMembershipSecretary later walked up to the nearby cake shop (while it was dry), and walked back (when it wasn't!)

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 7th, 2006 01:47 pm (UTC)

I'd like to see the archaeological museum in Belem, and also potter around some of the side streets as the guidebooks indicate that there are worthwhile things to see there too.

I would also happily sit down and be served coffee and pasteis in the inner rooms at Pasteis de Belem. One day...