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Mon. to the Discoveries

Monument to the Discoveries and Praça do Império

The area directly in front of the Jerónimos Monastery was once a beach where carracks docked for water supplies. In 1938 the space was chosen as the site for the Exhibition of the Portuguese World, as its proximity to the Monastery, Tower of Belém and Belém Palace invoked the notion of the overseas empire. Demolition work began in the existing residential quarters and a gardened space was created in front of the Monastery as a means of enhancing its presence.

The gardened square was inaugurated in 1940, having being built according to plans by Cottinelli Telmo and Vasco Lacerdo Marques. The fountain was designed by António Lino.

That same year, in the context of the Exhibition of the Portuguese World, the original Monument to the Discoveries was built at one end of the Praça do Império. It was designed by Cottinelli Telmo with artistic assistance from Leitão de Barros and Leopoldo de Almeida. Architecturally speaking, it originally consisted of a light iron and concrete structure, with the sculptural composition consisting of thirty-three figures, with Henry the Navigator featuring prominently, made of perishable materials.

In 1960, on the occasion of the fifth centennial of the death of Henry the Navigator, the Praça do Império space was remodelled in parts, with the addition of the thirty coats of arms of the cities and provinces of mainland Portugal, the Portuguese islands and the overseas territories, the Cross of Christ and the Cross of Avis in mosaics in the flowerbeds surrounding the fountain.

The Monument to the Discoveries was also rebuilt, this time in reinforced concrete clad in Rosal limestone from Leiria. The new monument was inaugurated on 9 August 1960. In 1985 the monument was underwent new renovation work that allowed for public access to the viewing balcony, auditoriuma and two exhibition rooms.

South Africa later offered Portugal a windrose made of different marble stones fifty metres in diameter with a fourteen-metre-wide map of the world as decoration for the square in front of the monument. Carracks and caravels embedded in the design mark the most important routes of the Portuguese Discoveries. The windrose was designed by Cristino da Silva.

Bibl.: "Belém" by Isabel Corrêa da Silva and Miguel Metelo de Seixas, publ. by Junta de Freguesia de Sta. Maria de Belém, 2000