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Jerónimos Monastery (Lisbon, Portugal)

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Ancient monastery located in Lisbon, Portugal.

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      26.05.2011 12:46
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      An inspiring visit

      The Jeronimos Monastery is a little way outside the vibrant city centre of Lisbon; located in by the clear waters of the Tagus River in the Belem district. Belem is an area of Lisbon which embodies the seafaring history of Portugal. It was from Belem that the great Portuguese explorers such as Prince Henry the Navigator and Vasco de Gama set off on their voyages of discovery. Although the area is a little way out of the ancient city centre, it is a place full of history and life.

      As you enter Belem, the ornate stonework of the monastery is extremely eye-catching and is a building that most of the visitors flock towards instinctively, crossing the grass area with its large fountain, drawn towards the monastery by the unusual and unique nature of the architecture.

      Jerónimos Monastery is an example of Manueline architecture, a style unique to Portugal that combines Gothic, Moorish, and early Renaissance influences. The intricate white Manueline stonework comes straight out of gothic fairy tale and the ornate arches and entrances seem to take up an incredible amount of space, spread out sideways rather than upwards in the way of English historic buildings.

      The monastery is often considered to be the most magnificent to be found in Lisbon and, together with the nearby Belem Tower, is classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

      The queue for tickets was fairly long, but well organised and fast moving. We were out of peak season and arrived at around 2pm. I would imagine that the queues and crowds would be much greater in peak season and recommend getting there much earlier.

      ~~History~~

      The monastery was founded in 1501 by King Manuel 1. Like much of the architecture around Belem, this monastery was built as a tribute to successful Portugese explorers and their voyages around the world. These people also funded the building, and the monastery is one of the most beautiful tributes to their bravery and vision.

      King Manuel invited the Order of St. Jerome (Hieronymites Monks) to occupy it. The powerful Hieronymites were known for their contemplative spirituality and productive intellectual output; they also shared the king's political views. The Hieronymites monks were expected to celebrate daily mass for the souls of Prince Henry the Navigator, King Manuel I and his successors in perpetuity, in addition to hearing confessions and providing spiritual counsel to seamen and navigators who sailed from Belém.

      ~~Church of Santa Maria~~

      Once our tickets were bought we were guided into the Church of Santa Maria. This church was awe inspiring in its grandeur, with soaring 25metre high octagonal columns and the most beautiful vaulted roof high above, beautifully lit and glittering with gold. Looking down the nave was a breath-taking experience; the beautiful decoration, the magnificent lighting and the intricate detail were all a wonderful introduction to the whole visit.

      At the entrance, a large crowd was gathered around the tomb of Vasco da Gama. The crowds and the unremitting flash of cameras spoilt this experience for me somewhat, but I lingered a little while to admire the ornate tomb, with its images of sailing ships, sculpted by the nineteenth century sculptor Costa Mota in the intricate Manueline style.

      I loved the fact that statues of Henry the Navigator were interspersed with statues of the Madonna of Belem; the whole church was a tribute to Portugal's history of travel and exploration and gave me a real sense of the heart of their history.

      ~~Monastery~~

      Leaving the church, we moved into the monastery itself. I immediately loved the cool stone cloisters that surrounded the grassy central area, and spent a long time just walking around in a square, under the vaulted stone roof, admiring the amazing Manueline detail on the columns that supported it. Each column has an individual decoration, differently carved with coils of rope, sea monsters, coral, and other sea motifs that remind us of the nautical origins of the building.

      The vast cloister is 55 metres on each of its square sides and has an upper storey as well as the beautiful ground floor; each wing of the monastery consists of six recessed bays. One of the nicest surprises on this upper floor was walking through a narrow archway and finding myself up in the balcony of the Church of Santa Maria. What a beautiful view, looking down on the whole church, and high up enough to admire the artworks and architecture of the roof!

      I was just happy to sit and gaze for a long time. There was so much detail to take in and so much history to try to understand.

      ~~Opinion~~

      This was one of the most beautiful and memorable buildings I have ever visited, and I would recommend it to anybody who visits Lisbon. We bought a combined ticket to the Monastery and Belem Tower, which cost 10E and was very good value. It is easy to see both sights in one afternoon; if visiting for the whole day I would recommend buying the triple ticket and including the Ajuda Palace in the price.

      I found that the actual information about the history and meaning of the place was in short supply on the day, and I would really recommend taking a detailed guide book or reading the background history before visiting.

      I love to sit and soak up the atmosphere and history of places like this. We visited at Easter, and even then I found the crowds a little intrusive - in peak season I would always try to be the first through the door to have some quiet time alone in the echoing and atmospheric cloisters so that it may be possible to imagine those Hieronymite monks going about their daily chores.

      ~~Getting there~~

      From the city centre it is advisable to take either a bus or a tram to the Belem area, as it can be a rather long, hot walk. For a ride full of character, tram number 15 will rattle you alongside the river and under the 25th April suspension bridge in about 10 minutes. Alternatively, several buses take the same route and are a slightly more comfortable and air conditioned ride. Tickets cost 2.50E per person each way.

      ~~Practical Information~~

      Disabled Access: The church and the lower cloister are very accessible to those in wheelchairs or with restricted mobility, but there is no access to the upper cloister. Toilets are available on the ground floor and are fully accessible.

      The Monastery offers a tactile tour for the visually impaired.

      Opening Hours:
      October to May. From 10:00 am to 5:30 pm (last admission at 5:00 pm)
      May to September. From 10:00 am to 6:30 pm (last admission at 6:00 pm)
      Closed: Mondays and 1 January, Easter Sunday, 1 May and 25 December

      Prices:
      Adult: 7E, Children under 15 free.
      Combined tickets. Jerónimos Monastery /Tower of Belém: 10E
      Lisboa Monumental (Jerónimos Monastery, Tower of Belém and Ajuda Palace): 13E
      Concessions:
      50% discount for over 65 or disabled.

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