The Jerónimos Monastery in Lisbon is one of the city’s must-see spots. Discover the beautiful architecture and history of this iconic landmark in Belem with my practical guide to visiting the Jerónimos Monastery.

There’s not much I remember about my trip to Lisbon fifteen years ago. My friend Stacie and I had been interrailing around Spain and Portugal on the tightest budget ever (think cartons of wine for €1 and a lot of meals consisting of bread and cheese).

The San Jeronimos Monastery in Belem, Lisbon

We’d wandered around a lot, visited jazz clubs and that was about it… until we visited Belem and the Jerónimos Monastery.

At 17 I was a dutiful diarist, so I can tell you exactly what I thought of the Jerónimos Monastery the first time…

“I’ve never seen anywhere so amazing, so peaceful. We love Belem so much! The Jerónimos Monastery was awesome!”

Clearly, there were not enough exclamation marks to help me describe my feelings. Why have words when you can use punctuation? They do the same thing right?!

Even so, when I stepped into the entrance of the monastery on this trip, my feelings were exactly the same. I’ll save myself the embarrassment of trying to describe it.

Here is a picture instead.

Cloisters at San Jeronimo
The Cloisters in the Monastery

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Why Visit the Mosteiro Jeronimos?

You’re probably beginning to see why the Jerónimos Monastery Lisbon is famous for being one of the most beautiful buildings in the city and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

South Portal - Jeronimos Monastery in Lisbon
The South Portal Entrance

Lisbon is known for many things, but Belem stands out as one of the areas that played a pivotal role in history. 

A day trip to Belem with a visit to the monastery, Torres de Belem and the Monument to the Age of the Discovery is a must see for any visitor to the city.

However, the Jerónimos Monastery is not just a pretty facade.

The monastery has played an important role in the city’s history throughout the years and now stands as one of Lisbon’s main tourist attractions.

The monastery houses the tombs of several important figures in Portuguese history including King Manuel and the famous Portuguese seafarer Vasco De Gama.

Other figures buried within the monastery include Portuguese poets Herculano and Fernando Pessoa.

If you’re lucky, you may be able to time your visit to coincide with one of the temporary exhibitions that are sometimes held in the monastery.

In the past it has hosted two major exhibitions, Four Centuries of Paintings and Leonardo da Vinci: A Man at the World’s Scale, A World at the Scale of Man.

Step into the monastery’s Library and check out the permanent exhibition “A Place in Time”, which commemorates and explores the history of the monastery over the past 500 years.

The exhibition offers an interesting glimpse into the history of the monastery and the lives of the monks who resided within it.

Mosteiro dos Jerónimos: Portuguese Gothic Architecture

The Jerónimos Monastery showcases the ornate features of Manueline architecture, a style that is unique to Portugal.

Details on the cloisters at the San Jeronimos Monastery
Elaborate detailing

Manueline architecture features an eye-catching combination of  Portuguese gothic, Moorish and Renaissance architectural styles.

The exterior of the building extends over an impressive 300 metres and is constructed from limestone extracted from quarries in Ajuda, Rio Seco, Alcântara, Laveiras and Tercena.

Arches in the cloisters at San Jeronimos Monastery

Taken as a whole, the effect is pretty dramatic.  But it’s only when you start to look at the smaller details do you see the elaborate handiwork present in each part of the construction.

The South Portal (now used as the main entrance to the monastery) is the visual crux of the monastery’s exterior, despite it only being a side entrance.

It was built between 1516-1518 by João de Castilho and features Our Lady Bethlehem with Child surrounded by statues of apostles, prophets and saints.

The portal’s pillars are decorated with sculptures depicting scenes from the life of Saint Jerome – the translator of the Vulgate and the Hieronymite patron.

After marvelling at the outside, you should walk through into the cloisters (which were also designed by Castilho).

The cloisters are spread out over two floors. Almost every surface is decorated with the carvings and stonework that make the monastery so special.

The Chapel of St Jerome is the heart of the monastery.

Chapel of Saint Jerome, Moistero de San Jeronimo Lisbon
Chapel of St Jerome

Built in 1514, the chapel is a rectangular building featuring conical pinnacles at the corners and stone rope placed along the roofline.

Look out for the gargoyles stationed in the corners of the chapel and enjoying the view of the sea.

History of the Monastery de San Jerónimos

The construction Belem Monastery began in 1401. It took roughly a century to complete.

King Manuel was determined that the monastery would be a grandiose building and hired several esteemed architects to achieve that vision.

These architects included Diogo de Boitaca, a master of Igreja de Jesus in Setúba, João de Castilho of Spain, Diogo de Torralva and Jerónimo de Ruão (1530-1601).

Together, the architects created the “jewel in the crown” Manuel required and an outstanding piece of Manueline architecture.

The original designs were predominantly in the Gothic style. By the time the monastery was complete, its design had evolved to include touches of Baroque and Renaissance design.

San Jeronimos Monastery Lisbon in Belem
(c) Julianna Barnaby

Much of the vast amount of money required for the monastery’s construction came from the so-called “pepper tax”. The pepper tax taxed the revenue from trade between Africa and the East.

Manuel chose the Order of St. Jerome, also known as the Hieronymites, occupy the monastery. The Jeronimos said daily mass for the souls of Prince Henry the Navigator and King Manuel I. They also had to hear the confessions of and provide spiritual assistance to those who sailed from Belém.

In 1755 a devastating earthquake struck Lisbon, causing wholesale destruction of much of the city. Though the Monastery de San Jerónimos suffered some damage, fortunately it wasn’t severe. It has also been subject to a number of projects to restore it to its former glory.

Architectural detailing in the San Jeronimos Monastery

The Jerónimos occupied the monastery until 1833, when all religious orders in Portugal were dissolved and the monastery was vacated.

Today, the Jerónimos Monastery stands as a monument to the Age of Discovery and as a mausoleum for King Manuel I and his successors.

Planning Your Visit to the Jerónimos Monastery Lisbon

Admission Costs to Belem’s Monastery

An individual ticket will cost you €10 and combination tickets start from €12. These combination tickets include entrance to other sites, such as Torre Belem. Entry for children below the age of 12 is free. Access to the Jerónimos Monastery is free on the first Sunday of each month.

Take a Tour of the Jeronimos Monastery

It’s one thing to walk around the Monastery of Jeronimos reading a leaflet and another with an incredibly knowledgeable tour guide.

This walking tour of Belem covers the Monastery, along with Belem’s other big sights, the Monument to the Discoveries and Pasteis de Belem (make sure you are hungry).

Groups are no bigger than 8 – so you don’t need to worry about feeling like a sheep being herded in a huge flock either.

Mosteiro Jeronimos – Address

Praça do Império, Lisbon 1400-206, Portugal

Getting to the Monastery

Bus- 727, 28, 729, 714 and 751

Tram- 14 or tram 28

Train- Belém Station

Ferry- Belém Ferry Station

Lisbon Monastery – Opening Times

October to May

From 10.00 a.m. to 5.30 p.m. (last admission at 5.00 p.m.)

May to September

From 10.00 a.m. to 6.30 p.m. (last admission at 6.00 p.m.)

Closed: Mondays and 1 January, Easter Sunday, 1 May, 13 June and 25 December

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The Jeronimos Monastery in Belem, Lisbon
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