Torre de Belém
Torre de Belém, UNESCO world heritage

Lisbon’s iconic monuments threatened by rising sea levels/ heatwaves

Torre de Belém needs “urgent interventions” within 3-5 years

Lisbon’s iconic monuments cannot escape the threats posed by climate change. Certainly Torre de Belém (Belém Tower) is in an immediate ‘line of fire’; fears also centre on the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (Jeronimos Monastery).

To this end, a team – led by an American architect, Barbara Judy – is conducting a study, to be delivered within the next month.

As Expresso explains, throughout the low tides of September “Barbara Judy observed and registered damages to the basaltic outcrop that serves as the base of the Manueline Torre” regularly visited by up to 1,000 people per day.

She tells the paper, her team catalogued “broken stones, eroded jetties and joints without mortar”.

It is urgent that repair work is started within the next three to five years – with finance guaranteed “because we’re talking about very important historical buildings”, she stressed – referring also to the nearby Mosteiro, which sits atop an aquifer the contents of which are used to irrigate municipal gardens. The trouble here, is that over time, humidity and salinity have altered the load bearing capacity of the soil…



Says Expresso, Barbara Judy refused to predict “scenarios of collapse”, but she insists that “constant monitoring” is required – and that this is the moment to consider “engineering projects for the entire riverside area”.

The architect’s warnings are not new. Portuguese scientists have also said as much – and the director of both Torre de Belém and the Mosteiro knows exactly how repair works could be funded.

“All it would take is a percentage of the entrance fees collected from visitors”, Dalila Rodrigues explains. “Up till now, no percentage of takings are kept back – yet it is urgent and imperative to promote practices of sustainability”.

Torre de Belém, for example, has frequently to be ‘closed to visitors’ during bad weather/ high seas. It was closed this week during the arrival of two depressions that brought wild seas with them.

A UNESCO world heritage site, constructed in the 16th century, the Torre is often battered by waves during storms, and runs the risk of being flooded in future with  consequences for the structure that it up – “particularly when sea levels are predicted to rise a metre by the end of the century”, adds Expresso.

But it is not just the effects of wear and tear from the sea that has worried researchers; they see heatwaves as another ‘threat’.

“I saw the young, the elderly and pregnant women subjected to thermic shock visiting these monuments”, Barbara Judy explains. “One of the aspects of our work is to rethink how to receive visitors in a better way, from a public health point of view”.

Between spring and October, roughly 1,000 people visit Torre de Belém every day, and more than twice that amount (around 2,400) file into the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos. More often than not, visitors will have had to queue in the sun, sometimes for quite some time. Thus, to mitigate the impacts of rising temperatures on people waiting, “simple solutions” need to be formulated.

Barbara Judy talks of planting deciduous trees near the monuments, or having temporary mobile shades. “These solutions have been adopted at the Athens Acropolis, as well the practice of closing these places during the hottest parts of the day”.

Another solution is to repave the areas around monuments, substituting materials, like asphalt, which absorbs heat, and radiates it back out, for a material that reflects it.

The good news about all these questions is that there are already ‘solutions’ in sight. Dalila Rodrigues considers that if 20% of takings for 2023 alone were put towards repairs, the city would already have €1.6 million to get started with.

The investigation currently underway has been organised in partnership with the United States embassy within the ‘Embassy Science Fellows program’.

Says Expresso, when action plans are ready to be drawn up, work will be done in collaboration with LNEC, the national laboratory of civil engineering.

Source: Expresso