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My European Favourites – Lisbon’s Belem District

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The Belem district of Lisbon is where you will find the most famous buildings and monuments from what is called the Age of Exploration or Age of Discovery as well as numerous parks and museums. It is located along the coast at the mouth of the Tagus river about 4 kilometers west of Lisbon’s city center. Belem, which is Bethlehem in Portuguese, used to be a small fishing village before it became the shipyard and docks at the center of the discoveries. It remained a separate town until recently when it became a parish district of the city of Lisbon. To better understand the Belem district and its monuments requires a brief history of the Age of Discovery, Prince Henry the Navigator and the Order of Christ.

In the 15th and 16th centuries, Portuguese sailors were at the forefront of the Age of Discovery. They recorded information about places they visited, and they mapped the coasts of Africa, Asia, Brazil and even Newfoundland. The expeditions were started in 1419 along the west coast of Africa under the sponsorship of Prince Henry the Navigator, who at the time, was Grand Master of the Order of Christ.

Historical figures from the Age of Discovery on the Monument of the Discoveries

The Order of Christ’s origins in Portugal lie with the Knights Templar that were founded around 1119. The Templars were best known as Christian warriors, but the majority of their membership were not combatants; they managed the economies in Europe and formed an early form of banking and finance. The Templars, who had become wealthy and powerful, were abolished on the 22nd of March 1312 by Pope Clement V under pressure from the French King Philip IV. The French king had many debts with the Templars, so he was motivated by an opportunity to erase those debts and remove the Templar threat to his power and influence.

The Templars were pursued, persecuted and annihilated throughout Europe with the help of political influence from the Pope as head of the Catholic Church. Portugal’s King Denis refused to go after the Templars and in 1319, he negotiated with Clement’s successor, Pope John XXII, to establish the Order of Christ, which were granted the right to inherit the assets and property of the Templars. So, with the support of the order’s Grand Master, Prince Henry, the emblematic cross of the Order of Christ was emblazoned on Portuguese sails during the discoveries.

The cross is seen on various emblems today including on the logo of the Portuguese national soccer team and on that of the Brazilian national soccer team. If you are interested in the Knights Templar and Order of Christ, there are various sites of interest throughout Portugal.

Compass Rose with a World Map of Portuguese explorations

To conduct the exploration of northern Africa, the Portuguese needed a vessel that could be easily maneuvered, so they developed a small boat called a caravel. The caravel had lateen sails, so it could reach good speed on the open water with the wind at its back, but just as important, it could also be sailed into the wind.  Using the caravel, the Portuguese worked their way along the African coast and set up trade posts.

Eventually, in 1488, Bartolomeu Dias reached the Cape of Good Hope and rounded the southern tip of Africa and into the Pacific Ocean. Probably the most famous Portuguese discoverer, Vasco da Gama, followed the same path and reached India in 1498 setting up the spice trading route. By cutting out the “middle men,” which at that time were Arab, Turkish and Italian merchants, the Portuguese Crown became very wealthy.

In 1500, Pedro Alvares Cabral set sail for India but sailed far west into the Atlantic to take advantage of the trade winds. He spotted the northeastern part of South America which would become a Portuguese colony and the only Portuguese speaking country in the Americas, Brazil.

The Portuguese continued setting up trade routes to other parts of Asia, including Japan in 1542. The immense wealth from the discoveries and subsequent trade laid the foundation for the Portuguese Empire.

Manueline style architecture, a caravel and the Order of Christ cross on the Portuguese national soccer team logo

With wealth, came great building projects. Portugal has a unique architectural style called Manueline or sometimes referred to as Portuguese late Gothic. The Manueline style originated during the 16th century and depicts maritime elements paying tribute to the discoveries made at that time and financed by the resulting lucrative spice trade. Some of the most prominent features of the Manueline style include armillary spheres, sea shells, the cross of the Order of Christ, rope columns and botanical motifs like laurel branches, oak leaves and acorns. Many Manueline buildings were destroyed in the great earthquake in 1755, but the Tower of Belem and Hieronymites Monastery, which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, are two of the best examples we can see today.

Belem Tower wall, view of the Tower from the Discoveries Monument and the Santa Cruz sea biplane

The Belem Tower, officially named the Tower of St. Vincent, is a four story 16th century fortification that guarded the entrance into Lisbon. It was the last and first thing explorers saw as they left and returned from their voyages. When it was first built in 1520, the tower stood on an island in the middle of the Tagus river, about 200 meters from the northern shore. The tower has been rebuilt various times and its current style combines Manueline, Gothic, Moorish and Renaissance features. It has also been used as a prison and is one of the most recognizable and photographed landmarks of Lisbon and Portugal. For a fee, you can enter the tower.

At the corner of the Belem Tower Park, you will see the Santa Cruz biplane monument dedicated to Gago Coutinho and Sacadura Cabral who were the first pilots to cross the South Atlantic ocean in 1922. The seaplane was followed by a support ship as they didn’t have the fuel capacity to make the entire voyage. It was a perilous 79 day journey from Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro, and the plane was ditched along the Brazil coast after an engine failure in bad weather. It’s quite the story. You can see a replica of the actual plane in the Maritime Museum. From the monument walk around the Bom Sucessso docks and along a nice waterfront walkway. You will pass the Old Belem Lighthouse on the way to our next stop, the Monument of the Discoveries.

Monument of the Discoveries, Compase Rose and Prince Henry the Navigator

The 52 meter Monument of the Discoveries (Padrão dos Descobrimentos), completed in 1960, celebrates the Age of Discovery and is designed to look like a caravel. The monument commemorates the 500th anniversary of the death of Prince Henry the Navigator, depicted at the front of the monument holding a caravel. The monument has sixteen statues on each side of Prince Henry depicting notable people from that era including monarchs, explorers, cartographers, artists, poets, scientists, and missionaries. The square in front of the monument, donated by South Africa, has a compass rose and a world map detailing the Portuguese explorations. Inside, there are exhibition halls and an auditorium plus a lift to the top of the monument that offers great views of the Tagus river, the 25th of April Bridge, the statue of Cristo Rei on the other side of the river, the world map on the square below and the Hieronymites Monastery.

Hieronymites Monastery from the Monument of the Discoveries

The Hieronymites Monastery (Mosteiro dos Jeronimos), started by King Manuel I in 1501, and took 100 years to complete, is the former monastery of the Order of Saint Jerome. The monks’ role was to provide spiritual guidance to the sailors and to pray for the king’s soul. In front of the monastery, there is a nice park with hedges and a fountain decorated with the coats of arms.

The Santa Maria de Belem church and the monastery cloisters are great examples of Manueline architecture. The entrance to the church is free while there is a charge to see the monastery cloisters. Once you enter the cloisters, you can enter the vault of the Santa Maria church for a great view of the columns and nave. Some kings and great figures in Portuguese history are buried here including Vasco da Gama, whose tomb you can see at the entrance, along with the poet Luis de Camões, who wrote the epic, “The Lusiads,” detailing the exploits of Gama and his compatriots.

Hieronymites Moanstery fountain, Santa Maria de Belem church interior and the tomb of Vasco da Gama

In the western wing of the Hieronymites Monastery, you will find two museums. The Maritime Museum (Museu da Marinha) is administered by the Navy and offers more details about the explorations and all other aspects of the Portuguese history of navigation. You can see scale models of ships, maps, paintings, navigation instruments, royal barges and sea planes.

The Museu Nacional de Arqueologia (National Museum of Archaeology), founded in 1893, contains ancient art and artifacts from throughout the Iberian Peninsula. In the Belem Cultural Centre, located near the monastery, there is the Coleção Berardo, which is a modern and contemporary art gallery.

The Pastéis de Belém busy counter, a peek at the production and the beautiful tarts

After a busy morning, you might need a snack. The Pastel de Nata is a Portuguese custard tart with a flaky crust that is dusted with cinnamon. It was invented by Catholic monks in Belem at the Hieronymites Monastery before the 18th century. Why the monks, you ask? Convents and monasteries used egg whites in those days to starch clothes, so the leftover yokes were used to make cakes and pastries. Today, the nearby Pastéis de Belém café is a must stop while you are in Belem to taste the authentically made pastry. There are sometimes long line ups outside, but they are customers waiting to buy “to go” sleeves of the treat.

There are many seats inside, in various rooms, where you can sit and order your tarts and coffee. As you go deeper inside, there are windows where you can see the custard tart operation at work. Every few minutes you will see a staff member emerge from the bakery carrying multiple trays of the tarts to restock the front counter as they constantly fly off the shelf. Every self-respecting Portuguese bakery in the world makes their version, but the monks’ original recipe is a closely guarded secret and is held by just a few people. They have all memorized the recipe as there can be no written version.

Just further down the street, you will see the Pink Palace, which is the official residence of the Portuguese President. Next to the palace is the 18th century Royal Riding School, which used to house the Museu Nacional dos Coches (National Coaches Museum). The Royal Riding School can still be visited and will have some coaches on display. The museum’s new location, which is only a few meters away, has a much larger space to show off one of the world’s finest collections of horse drawn carriages the from 16th to the 19th century.

The 5 hectare Jardim Botânico Tropical (Tropical Botanical Garden), which was laid out in 1912 by Hieronymites Monastery, is one of Lisbon’s best green spaces. The park has flora from all over the world, principally from Portugal’s former colonies. Some of the art and architecture with colonial themes date back to the 1940 Portuguese World Exhibition. The grounds have 18th century marble statues by Italian artists, an Arch of Macau, an Oriental garden, greenhouses, and the 17th century baroque Calheta Palace, which is now a library and is used for exhibitions. Visitors enjoy seeing the ducks, swans, geese and peacocks who are found throughout the garden and its ponds. It is a good place to take a break from a busy day in Belem.

In the evening, you may consider a short walk along the waterfront, maybe while enjoying a beautiful sunset, to the Doca de Santo Amaro (Dock of St. Amaro). The dock is located next to the foot of the 25th of April Bridge. Here, you will find a variety of restaurants to have a nice dinner. As you enjoy your wine, you can reflect on the courage of the great explorers who left these shores to explore the world.

Explore Europe With Us

Azorcan Global Sport, School and Sightseeing Tours have taken thousands to Europe on their custom group tours since 1994. Visit azorcan.net to see all our custom tour possibilities for your group of 26 or more. Individuals can join our “open” signature sport, sightseeing and sport fan tours including our popular Canada hockey fan tours to the World Juniors. At azorcan.net/media you can read our newsletters and listen to our podcasts.

Images compliments of Paul Almeida and Azorcan Tours.

My European Favourites – One Day In The Bavarian Alps

 

 

I have been in sports management and the sports tour business since 1994 when I created my company, Azorcan Global Sport, School and Sightseeing tours. Please visit our website at azorcan.net for more information on our company, our tours and our destinations. We are European group tour experts specializing in custom sightseeing tours, sport tours (hockey, soccer, ringette, school academies) and fan tours (World Juniors). Check out our newsletters, and listen to our podcasts at azorcan.net/media.

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Alberta

Alberta judge finds man guilty of manslaughter in death of one-year-old son

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By Daniela Germano in Edmonton

An Alberta judge has found a man guilty of manslaughter in the death of his one-year-old son as well as of assaulting his young daughter.

The man’s lawyer argued in court that the father should be found not criminally responsible for his son’s death in November 2019.

Rory Ziv argued that a severe sleep disorder put the man from Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., in a state of automatism, which made him incapable of understanding his actions when he killed his son and injured his daughter, who was five at the time.

There is a publication ban on identifying the girl because she is a minor.

The man testified at trial that he has no memory of hurting his children, saying he fell asleep on the couch while caring for them. He said he dreamt he was being attacked and awoke to find that he injured his children.

A sleep expert also testified at trial after examining the man two years following the boy’s death. Dr. Colin Shapiro said he found “thumbprints” of parasomnia, a disorder in which people do things while asleep that they are unaware of, such as sleepwalking.

Shapiro testified he saw multiple arousals during the man’s deep sleep.

The man was initially charged with second-degree murder, but the prosecution asked the judge to consider a verdict of manslaughter instead.

Crown attorney Sandra Christensen-Moore said at trial earlier this month that evidence suggested the man was intoxicated at the time of the attack, which would affect his ability to form the intent needed for second-degree murder.

In announcing his verdict Wednesday, Justice John Henderson said it was more likely that the accused was suffering from severe withdrawal symptoms from his opioid addiction and lashed out at his children.

Court heard that the man has a history of substance abuse with cocaine, alcohol, heroin and prescription opioids. He admitted to self-medicating his back pain with heroin and illegally obtained Percocet.

Henderson said the man got into an argument with is partner the day of his son’s death and threw a plate in the woman’s direction because they did not have enough money for him to buy cigarettes.

“Certainly there is no doubt on the evidence that (the man) was having serious sleep difficulties and serious back pain at the time of these events,” the judge said.

“I’m also satisfied that the evidence is very clear that he was experiencing other stressors, including financial issues and relationship issues. He was also experiencing significant symptoms of heroin withdrawal.”

But Henderson said the defence was not able to prove that the man was in a state of automatism when he attacked his children.

“While I am satisfied that there is some evidence that could potentially support the conclusion of automatism, when I consider the totality of the evidence, I find it is not possible to come to that conclusion.”

The father is to be sentenced at a later date.

The judge said the man, who was prone to explosive outbursts, adapted his story about what happened the day of his son’s death as a way to rationalize his behaviour.

Henderson said such rationalization was most evident in the “evolving story” of the man’s dream of being teleported and attacked by a shadow creature during which he was trying to protect his children.

“This story did not exist for more than one year after (the boy’s) death and it only began evolving thereafter.

“The story was crafted to satisfy a narrative that would lead to a conclusion of automatism.”

Henderson noted that a forensic psychologist testified that the man had unresolved anger issues.

The judge said the man became overwhelmed by his situation and burst out in an aggressive and disproportionate manner when striking his children.

“I conclude that this explanation is for the attack is much more likely than the conclusion of automatism.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 29, 2022.

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Alberta

‘Sad to see:’ Edmonton’s Chinatown losing business after killings, rise in crime

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EDMONTON — The 97 Hot Pot restaurant in Edmonton’s Chinatown used to be crowded on weekends, with some customers lining up and craving slow-cooked veggies, lamb and beef.

But that hasn’t been the case lately.

Manager Vincent Lau says the killings of two workers from nearby shops last month and years of social disorder in the century-old downtown neighbourhood have scared away many regulars.

“Business has died down significantly in the last few weeks,” said Lau, who lives a 15-minute walk from the restaurant.

“Chinatown has been here for a long time, so it’s sad to see. Being able to have a safer area would welcome more guests and more citizens to this part of the city.”

Wen Wong, executive director of the Chinatown and Area Business Association, said the district in the McCauley neighbourhood has been deteriorating over the last 20 years.

The decline worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic, when the oldest bakery in the community was burned to the ground and multiple other cases of arson and vandalism followed.

Edmonton police said there has been an increasing trend of violence, disorder, and property crime in areas including Chinatown, the downtown, and the transit system.

Wong said years ago, many Chinatown businesses stayed open late into the night to serve a busy clientele. Many close now by 6 p.m. and, during the day, operate with their doors locked so customers have to knock to get in.

“We surveyed our members and close to 100 per cent said Chinatown is extremely dangerous, especially at nighttime,” said Wong, adding he doesn’t walk outside at night.

Lau said the killing of Ban Phuc Hoang and Hung Trang a few blocks away from his restaurant has made it difficult to attract customers. Hoang was working inside his electronics store when he was attacked. Trang was found dead outside the autobody shop where he worked.

Lau said some of his larger male workers have been regularly walking servers out to their cars after shifts “because we’re scared of what might happen.”

Wong said addiction and mental health issues have worsened and more people have been in the area to access nearby social service centres.

Volunteers have been collecting as many as 300 needles a month in the community, which is just a few blocks from Edmonton’s safe drug consumption sites, he said.

“I don’t understand why and how safe injection sites and these centres were all placed near Chinatown,” Wong said.

“We have a lot of homeless who come in and they don’t want to leave,” Lau added.

“We have to call the police, which sometimes takes up to an hour. By that time, they have made a mess.”

Wong said he counted 150 businesses operating at the start of the pandemic and today there are about 120.

Children of many of the business owners tell their parents they don’t want to continue running their family shops because of how challenging it has become, he said.

“We are having less and less Chinese owners, because they are getting old. It’s hard for the Chinese community.”

Lau and Wong agree two solutions would help Chinatown become the colourful, tourist-friendly and vibrant neighbourhood it was once: more security and fewer social service centres in the area.

Mayor Amarjeet Sohi announced a plan last week to address crime. It includes $1 million to revitalize Chinatown, grants for businesses to upgrade their security, more public washrooms downtown and help for owners doing cleanup.

In the long term, the city plans to urge the province to stop releasing mental health patients and those released from provincial corrections facilities onto the streets. This, after questions have been raised about why the man charged with killing Hoang and Trang was dropped off in Edmonton by RCMP when a bail condition stated he could only be in the city for an addictions treatment program.

The city also wants to decentralize social services now concentrated near Chinatown over five years.

Edmonton police said it is also creating a strategy to increase community safety along with more officers in downtown areas.

Wong said 12 security officers in cars, on bikes and on foot have been patrolling the area from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., seven days a week since the funding was released. It will cover their costs for up to six months.

He’s not sure about what will happen after that.

“We hope we will see a big change for the better.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 18, 2022.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Fakiha Baig, The Canadian Press

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