This is the most striking monuments. Although it can be seen from a distance, you want to go right up to it and spend a bit of time walking around it. It sits right on the waterfront at the same point where most Portuguese voyages of discovery were launched. These were the discoveries that made Portugal a superpower in the 14th century and the monument is dedicated to those who set off into the unknown, armed with 15th century technology and not knowing whether they’d return or not. It’s a massive structure celebrating epic journeys.
From the sides, it looks like a highly stylised ship with billowing sails. A crew of 32 limestone figures is assembled, ready to embark on the next expedition. Each of these figures represents an historical figure. It’s a who’s who of the most famous explorers.
We found it hard to know who actually was who until we did a bit of googling. The monument’s official website (google Padrao dos Descobrimentos) was extremely helpful and has an interactive page where you can click on an image of each sculpture to ID them. We enjoyed it a lot more once we could identify everyone.
Henry the Navigator (1394-1460) who started the ‘Age of Discovery’ in 15th century stands at the front, captain of the ship. Vasco de Gama who discovered the sea trading route to India and Ferdinand Magellan who first circumnavigated the world, are just behind him (on the side closest to the bridge).
Interestingly, it’s not just seamen who are honoured. There are also a couple of kings, writers, a painter, a poet, a mathematician and 3 missionaries. Exploration and discovery was a team effort. We also found one woman – Philippa of Lancaster (Henry the Navigator’s mother). She is the one kneeling, with her hands clasped in prayer for the safe return of Henry.
There is a lookout at the top (€6) but if, like us, you are also going to visit the Belem Tower, then it’s probably not worth doing this because the tower also has great views.
From here, it was a lovely walk along the beautiful waterfront promenade to the Belem Tower.