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The Monument to the Discoveries (in Portuguese “Padrão do Descobrimentos”), created by Cottinelli Telmo (1897–1948) and the sculptor Leopoldo de Almeida (1898–1975), was first erected in 1940, in a temporary form, as part of the Portuguese World Exhibition. Built with perishable materials, it had a light iron and cement frame, while the moulded sculpture was made of gypsum (formed of plaster and burlap, and reinforced by a wooden and iron structure).
The monument was reconstructed in 1960 to mark 500 years since the death of the Infante Dom Henrique (Henry the Navigator). This time it was made of concrete and rose-tinted Leiria stone masonry, with the sculptures made of Sintra limestone masonry.
The Centro Cultural das Descobertas was opened in 1985. Architect Fernando Ramalho remodelled the interior, giving the monument a viewpoint, auditorium and exhibition hall.
Standing alone in a striking position on the breakwater on the bank of the Tagus, the Monument to the Discoveries evokes the Portuguese overseas expansion, recalls the country’s glorious past and symbolises the enormity of the work carried out by the Infante, the driving force behind the Discoveries.
A stylised caravel seems to be setting out to sea, with Henry the Navigator in its prow. On the two lateral ramps ascending to the symbolic figure of the Infante are some of the major figures of the Portuguese overseas expansion and cultural figures from the age of the Discoveries, 32 in total, all portrayed with symbols that allude to their identity: navigators, cartographers, warriors, colonisers, missionaries, chroniclers and artists.
Composed of a vertical element consisting of a stylised mast oriented North–South, with two Portuguese coats of arms on each side with its five small shields, surrounded by a band with 12 castles and stylised fleurs-de-lis in the centre.
On each side are three triangular structures, each with one curved side, giving the illusion of sails blown out by the wind.
The north side is formed by two giant stones which bear inscriptions in metallic letters. On the left side, the inscription above an anchor reads ‘TO THE INFANTE DOM HENRIQUE AND THE PORTUGUESE WHO DISCOVERED THE SEA ROUTES’. On the other side, the inscription above a laurel wreath reads, ‘ON THE V CENTENARY OF THE INFANTE DOM HENRIQUE 1460–1960′.
In the middle of the monument a flight of nine steps gives access to a platform with a view over the entire surrounding area.
A second flight of five stairs and a portal with a round arch formed by vaulted stones lead through to the interior of the monument.
The monument is flanked by two metal armillary spheres on two parallelepiped platforms.
Dimensions and features:
Height – 56m; Width – 20m; Length – 46m; Foundations – 20m
Central figure (Infante) – 9m; Figures on the sides (32) – 7m