Lisbon is situated on the North side of the river Tagus, which opens to to the Atlantic Ocean to the West. The large Tagus river therefore provides wonderful protection for the Portuguese capital harbour. There was a need to defend the capital from various forces, and the Belem tower was conceived to protect a vacant space where other Portuguese forts could not reach. Still the tower was not particularly successful in defending Lisbon, and was only in service as a fortress from 1519 to 1580, when the troops stationed at the tower surrendered to Spanish, who conquered Portugal for a brief period known as the Philippine Period, since the Spanish kings during this period were all named Phillip.
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The Monument to the Discoveries, located nearby the tower of Belem celebrates this period of Portuguese life.
It's too bad about San Francisco loosing it's bridge.
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You read all about Lisbon on my Beautiful Lisbon Post!
Thanks to info from lentop on Reddit, there are some really amazing photos of the Tower of Belem & Portugal from 1930 - 1980 on Flicker:
Splaceba Charesho, Sauce
Check out my video tour guide of Lisbon if you like!