Saturday, April 21, 2018

Old postcard: 16th century Belém Tower in Lisbon, Portgual

This surreal-looking old photograph was a bit of mystery to me, because there was a serious curveball on the back.1 Someone, years ago, had written "Oran, Africa." There is no other text visible on the front or back. So, naturally, Oran — a millennium-old coastal city in Algeria — is where I began my research. I thought this might be one of the old forts there, perhaps the Fort of Santa Cruz. It is not.

This is, in fact, a mislabeled postcard.

This building is NOT in Oran. It's actually located about 500 miles to the northwest, across the Alboran Sea, in Lisbon, Portugal.

It's the Belém Tower (aka Tower of St Vincent). It was constructed in the early 16th century (between about 1515 and 1519) and was originally commissioned by John II of Portugal before his death in 1495. Belém Tower sits in an isolated spot on the northern bank of the Tagus River. The lower bastion offers 17 spaces that were once cannon positions. The bases of the turrets feature depictions of beasts, including a rhinoceros. The 98-foot tower has, among other features, a spiral staircase and a chapel. If you want to see more, check out this video tour on YouTube.

P.S. — Don't worry. I have added my own "caption addendum" to this postcard, so that a future ephemerologist doesn't suffer the same fate.

1. If English is not your first language, let me explain. In the American sport of baseball, a curveball is a "pitch" (a ball thrown to a batter) that spins downward as it travels from the pitcher to the batter, making it difficult to hit (if thrown correctly). But there is a second meaning of curveball, used as an everyday expression. Because a curveball is a tricky and difficult pitch to hit in baseball, an everyday curveball is any unexpected obstacle, challenge or mystery that a person or group encounters. The "unexpected" part is crucial to the everyday usage.

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