Jerónimos Monastery with its elaborate portal, an impressive example of lacy stonework
One of the first monuments in Europe to be listed as a World Heritage Site, this monastery was built in the 1500s and is Lisbon’s must-see marvel. It was paid for with the profits made in the spice trade with the East, and was home to the monks of the Order of Saint Jerome (the “Jerónimos” or Hieronymites). These monks were supposed to pray for the king’s soul, and responsible for the recipe of the famous custard tarts (the “pastéis de Belém” or “pastéis de nata”), that are sold at a pastry shop down the street and now available all over Portugal and the world.
The tomb of explorer Vasco da Gama inside the church of Jerónimos Monastery
The church (officially called Igreja de Santa Maria de Belém) features tree-trunk-like columns that seem to grow into the ceiling, and holds the tombs of explorer Vasco da Gama and 15th-century poet Luís de Camões. Its vaulting is considered one of the most extraordinary examples of the technology of Gothic architecture in Europe, although the style is really called “Manueline,” a Portuguese Gothic that developed under the reign of King Manuel I. The entire monastery is a remarkable masterpiece of Manueline architecture, with ornamentation mixing naturalistic elements and religious and royal symbols.
If glorifies the Age of Discovery, Portugal’s power at sea, and its contact with distant lands. Coral, sea monsters and ropes are sculpted in the magnificent cloisters, which are unlike any other in the world. They have been used as a backdrop for major events, such as the signing of the Lisbon Treaty between all 27 European Union countries in 2007.
The magnificent stonework of the Jerónimos Monastery
Cherubs, vines, and flowers frame the portal of the Chapter House, which holds a tomb of historian Alexandre Herculano. The decoration of the vaulted refectory is more recent, with hand-painted tile panels from the 1700s, depicting miracles and scenes from the life of Joseph.
The former dormitory is now divided into two museums -- the National Archaeology Museum and the Maritime Museum.
The church is accessed through a portal facing west, as the main portal facing south is usually closed. This main portal is an elaborate work of lacy stonework, with images of Our Lady of Bethlehem surrounded by apostles and angels, scenes from the life of St. Jerome, and Prince Henry the Navigator high on a pedestal.
The cloisters of the Jerónimos Monastery
The monastery faces a landscaped garden known as Praça do Império (literally “Empire Square”), paved with the traditional Portuguese cobblestone designs, that here include armillary spheres and the signs of the Zodiac.
How to Get to the Jerónimos Monastery
Tram 18, which departs from outside the Cais do Sodré train station, stops by the monastery. However, that’s a rather infrequent service (it departs every 18 minutes, and doesn’t operate on Sundays), so the fastest way to get to the monastery is by train. It departs from Cais do Sodré station every 20 minutes (with Cascais as its destination), and stops in Belém in 7 minutes. The monastery is a short walk from the station.
Tram 15, which departs from Praça da Figueira (officially every 12 minutes, but sometimes more or less than that), reaches the stop by the monastery is just over 30 minutes. However, this tram is usually too crowded, so the train is the most recommended option. You may ride the train, trams and buses for free with the Lisboa Card.
Praça do Império, Belém
Admission and Tickets to the Jerónimos Monastery
The church is free, but for the cloisters and the rest of the monastery it’s €10.00. A combined ticked with the National Archaeology Museum is €12.00. It’s free with the Lisboa Card. There are usually long lines at the ticket counters, so the Lisboa Card is also recommended as a time-saver (it also offers free rides on public transportation).
It's closed on Mondays
Across the road (via an underpass) is the Discoveries Monument, while one of Europe's best collections of modern and contemporary art can be seen inside the building facing the garden, in the Berardo Collection Museum. Also don't miss the fairytale vehicles inside the Coaches Museum.
Where to Stay by the Jerónimos Monastery
It faces the monastery, but its interior does not have any monastic inspiration. Instead, this is a modern 4-star hotel, with 65 minimalist rooms. Some have a view of the monastery, others face a wonderful sun deck.