The story

Portugal and the Age of Exploration

The Iberian Peninsula, today home to Spain and Portugal, was overrun in the 5th century A.D. Religious toleration was established, but many of the indigenous people converted to Islam.In succeeding centuries, Christian princes on the peninsula and neighboring co-religionists took up the cause of expelling the Moors from Europe (the Iberian Reconquista); for many the cause became a major pillar of their faith. It was hoped that explorations would locate the besieged forces, which would then join with Portuguese armies and expel the Moors from their lands.As a small nation, Portugal may have appeared to be an unlikely leader in exploration and navigational science. Surrounded to the east and north by Spain and having no outlets on the Mediterranean, Portugal was compelled to regard the Atlantic Ocean as its main medium of travel.John I of Portugal (reigned 1385-1433) led his people into a period of high achievement and took direct aim at Moorish strength. Prince Henry (the Navigator), son of John and a hero at Ceuta, organized Portuguese resources and information for the purposes of exploration. Portugal emerged at the leading maritime power in Europe, but interest in exploration diminished after Henry's death in 1460.John II (reigned 1481-95) revived overseas activity and employed two bold, innovative navigators:

  • Bartholomeu Dias headed a venture in 1487 that sought an all-water route to India; he was unable to complete his quest, but managed to round the southern tip of Africa and sail into the Indian Ocean.
  • Vasco da Gama extended Dias' journey in 1488, reached India and returned home with an alluring array of jewels and spices.

In 1494, two years after Columbus' first voyage, the pope attempted to divide newly discovered non-Christian lands between the two leading Catholic seafaring nations of the day. The Treaty of Tordesillas granted Spain possession of lands to the west of a prescribed line; Portugal was assigned lands to the east.In 1500, Pedro Álvares Cabral was blown far off course, touched the coast of present-day Brazil and in doing so, established the Portuguese claim to that region.Other Portuguese navigators pushed on to Cathay (China) and the Spice Islands (Indonesia), which established the beginnings of a Far Eastern empire. During a period in the early 16th century, Portugal became the most prosperous trading power and eclipsed the Italian city-states.Portugal did not remain long at the top of the heap. As a small nation with severely limited internal resources, Portugal experienced chaos at home while its energies were focused abroad. Agriculture languished and industry failed to develop as it did elsewhere in Europe. A weakened Portugal soon fell under the influence of vastly superior Spain; the two nations were merged for 60 years in what was known as the Spanish Captivity (1580-1640). As Portugal declined, the upstart Dutch capitalized on the apparent weakness and seized many of the Portuguese possessions in the Far East.

See Map of Spanish America.


Portuguese sailors were at the vanguard of European overseas exploration, discovering and mapping the coasts of Africa, Asia, and Brazil. As early as 1317, King Denis made an agreement with Genoese merchant sailor Manuel Pessanha (Pesagno), appointing him first Admiral with trade privileges with his homeland, in return for twenty war ships and crews, with the goal of defending the country against Muslim pirate raids. This created the basis for the Portuguese Navy and the establishment of a Genoese merchant community in Portugal.

In the second half of the 14th century, outbreaks of bubonic plague led to severe depopulation the economy was extremely localized in a few towns, unemployment rose, and migration led to agricultural land abandonment. Only the sea offered alternatives, with most people settling in fishing and trading in coastal areas. Between 1325-1357, Afonso IV of Portugal granted public funding to raise a proper commercial fleet, and ordered the first maritime explorations, with the help of Genoese, under command of admiral Pessanha. In 1341, the Canary Islands, already known to Genoese, were officially explored under the patronage of the Portuguese king, but in 1344, Castile disputed them, further propelling the Portuguese navy efforts.

The Birth of the Age of Exploration

Many nations were looking for goods such as silver and gold, but one of the biggest reasons for exploration was the desire to find a new route for the spice and silk trades.

When the Ottoman Empire took control of Constantinople in 1453, it blocked European access to the area, severely limiting trade. In addition, it also blocked access to North Africa and the Red Sea, two very important trade routes to the Far East.

The first of the journeys associated with the Age of Discovery were conducted by the Portuguese. Although the Portuguese, Spanish, Italians, and others had been plying the Mediterranean for generations, most sailors kept well within sight of land or traveled known routes between ports. Prince Henry the Navigator changed that, encouraging explorers to sail beyond the mapped routes and discover new trade routes to West Africa.

Portuguese explorers discovered the Madeira Islands in 1419 and the Azores in 1427. Over the coming decades, they would push farther south along the African coast, reaching the coast of present-day Senegal by the 1440s and the Cape of Good Hope by 1490. Less than a decade later, in 1498, Vasco da Gama would follow this route all the way to India.

The Golden Age

For two centuries, Portugal lived in what was known as “the golden centuries of discoveries”. This was the apogee of Portugal as a country, and forever the benchmark of its culture. Throughout the 20th and now the 21st century, these years are mentioned ad nauseum as the seemingly lone landmarks of the Portuguese culture.

The age of discoveries, fueled by the rise of the “dynamic thinkers” of the new Portugal, started with the Kingdom of Dom Joao I (John I). On July 25, 1415, a Portuguese fleet with King Joao I and his sons Prince Duarte, Prince Henry “The Navigator”, and Prince Afonso, along with Supreme Constable Nuno Alvares Pereira, set out to conquer North Africa starting with the coastal towns of Ceuta and Tangier. These towns were bustling trading centers. On August 21st, Ceuta and Tangier were conquered by the Portuguese.

In early 15th century, Henry the Navigator founded the famous sailing school in Sagres and from there launched several sea expeditions which culminated in the discovery of the Archipelagos of Madeira Island and the Azores islands. Along with the invention of the sextant and major innovations in boat and sail design, Henry the Navigator made Portugal’s empire expansion possible and led to great advances in geographic knowledge. The discoveries were financed by the wealth of the Order of Christ, founded by King Dom Dinis (D. Dennis) in the 13th century for the Templar knights, who found refuge in Portugal after being pursued all over Europe. The Templars had interest in financing such expeditions, as they were searching for the legendary Christian Kingdom of Prester John.

In 1434, Gil Eanes, an experienced sailor under Henry’s watch, was the first sailor to round Cabo Bojador (Cape Bojador), a headland on the northern coast of West Sahara at latitude 27° North. Gil Eanes made several trips up and down the coast of Africa, thus marking the beginning of the Portuguese exploration of Africa.

One of the most remarkable achievements of the Portuguese sailors, was the rounding of the Cabo da Boa Esperanca (Cape of Good Hope) by Bartolomeu Dias (Bartholomew Dias) in 1487. The cape was named because it was hoped that India and its coveted spices would be found soon, therefore circumventing the land routes.

Other remarkable sailing feats in the 15th century included: Pero de Barcelos and Joao Fernandes Lavrador exploration of North America, Pero de Covilha reaching Etiopia in search of the mythical kingdom of Prester John, and the arrival of Vasco da Gama, one of the most successful sailors in history, at India on May 20, 1498.

In 1500, Pedro Alvares Cabral landed in Brazil, and in 1510, Afonso de Albuquerque conquered Goa in India. Goa, Damaou and Diu remained Portuguese colonies until they were annexed by India in 1961.

In 1578, tragedy struck, and forever altered the history of Portugal. King Sebastiao (Sebastian), at the ripe age of 19, decided to augment the Portuguese empire in North Africa, against the advice of the nobles. King Sebastian himself led the forces and left on a foggy morning from Lisbon to never be seen again. He left no heir to the throne, and because Philip II of Spain was the son of a Portuguese princess, the Spanish king became Philip I of Portugal in 1581. Portugal maintained its autonomy including law, currency, colonies and government under a personal treaty between the two countries. Portugal was further ruled by Philip III who tried to force integration, thus attacking and alienating the Portuguese nobles who were not in favor of the integration.

On December 1, 1640, Duque de Braganca (Duke of Braganca), a royal family descendent, led a revolution and, after several years, regained control of Portugal. The Duke of Braganca became Joao IV of Portual (John IV).

Portugal and the Age of Exploration - History

The Age of Exploration began in Portugal. This small country is located on the Iberian Peninsula. Its rulers sent explorers first to nearby Africa and then around the world.

Key Portuguese Explorers The major figure in early Portuguese exploration was Prince Henry, the son of King John I of Portugal. Nicknamed “the Navigator,” Prince Henry was not an explorer himself. Instead, he encouraged exploration and planned and directed many important expeditions.

Beginning in about 1418, Henry sent explorers to sea almost every year. He also started a school of navigation where sailors and mapmakers could learn their trades. His cartographers made new maps based on the information ship captains brought back.

Henry’s early expeditions focused on the west coast of Africa. He wanted to continue the Crusades against the Muslims, find gold, and take part in Asian trade.

Gradually, Portuguese explorers made their way farther and farther south. In 1488, Bartolomeu Dias became the first European to sail around the southern tip of Africa.

In July 1497, Vasco da Gama set sail with four ships to chart a sea route to India. Da Gama’s ships rounded Africa’s southern tip and then sailed up the east coast of the continent. With the help of a sailor who knew the route to India from there, they were able to across the Indian Ocean.

Da Gama arrived in the port of Calicut, India, in May 1498. There he obtained a load of cinnamon and pepper. On the return trip to Portugal, da Gama lost half of his ships. Still, the valuable cargo he brought back paid for the voyage many times over. His trip made the Portuguese even more eager to trade directly with Indian merchants.

In 1500, Pedro Cabral (kah-BRAHL) set sail for India with a fleet of 13 ships. Cabral first sailed southwest to avoid areas where there are no winds to fill sails. But he sailed so far west that he reached the east coast of present-day Brazil. After claiming this land for Portugal, he sailed back to the east and rounded Africa. Arriving in Calicut, he established a trading post and signed trade treaties. He returned to Portugal in June 1501.

The Impact of Portuguese Exploration Portugal’s explorers changed Europeans’ understanding of the world in several ways. They explored the coasts of Africa and brought back gold and enslaved Africans. They also found a sea route to India. From India, explorers brought back spices, such as cinnamon and pepper, and other goods, such as porcelain, incense, jewels, and silk.

After Cabral’s voyage, the Portuguese took control of the eastern sea routes to Asia. They seized the seaport of Goa (GOH-uh) in India and built forts there. They attacked towns on the east coast of Africa. They also set their sights on the Moluccas, or Spice Islands, in what is now Indonesia. In 1511, they attacked the main port of the islands and killed the Muslim defenders. The captain of this expedition explained what was at stake. If Portugal could take the spice trade away from Muslim traders, he wrote, then Cairo and Makkah "will be ruined. " As for Italian merchants, "Venice will receive no spices unless her merchants go to buy them in Portugal. "

Portugal’s control of the Indian Ocean broke the hold Muslims and Italians had on Asian trade. With the increased competition, prices of Asian goods—such as spices and fabrics—dropped, and more people in Europe could afford to buy them.

During the 1500s, Portugal also began to establish colonies in Brazil. The native people of Brazil suffered greatly as a result. The Portuguese forced them to work on sugar plantations, or large farms. They also tried to get them to give up their religion and convert to Christianity. Missionaries sometimes tried to protect them from abuse, but countless numbers of native peoples died from overwork and from European diseases. Others fled into the interior of Brazil.

The colonization of Brazil also had a negative impact on Africa. As the native population of Brazil decreased, the Portuguese needed more laborers. Starting in the mid–1500s, they turned to Africa. Over the next 300 years, ships brought millions of enslaved West Africans to Brazil.


In 1139 the Kingdom of Portugal achieved independence from León, having doubled its area with the Reconquista under Afonso Henriques.

In 1297, King Denis of Portugal took personal interest in the development of exports, having organized the export of surplus production to European countries. On May 10, 1293, he instituted a maritime insurance fund for Portuguese traders living in the County of Flanders, which were to pay certain sums according to tonnage, accrued to them when necessary. Wine and dried fruits from Algarve were sold in Flanders and England, salt from Setúbal and Aveiro was a profitable export to northern Europe, and leather and kermes, a scarlet dye, were also exported. Portugal imported armor and munitions, fine clothes, and several manufactured products from Flanders and Italy. [3]

In 1317 king Denis made an agreement with Genoese merchant sailor Manuel Pessanha (Pessagno), appointing him first Admiral with trade privileges with his homeland in return for twenty warships and crews, with the goal of defending the country against Muslim pirate raids, thus laying the basis for the Portuguese Navy and establishment of a Genoese merchant community in Portugal. [4] Forced to reduce their activities in the Black Sea, the Republic of Genoa had turned to the North African trade in wheat and olive oil (valued also as an energy source) and a search for gold – navigating also into the ports of Bruges (Flanders) and England. Genoese and Florentine communities were established in Portugal, which profited from the enterprise and financial experience of these rivals of the Republic of Venice.

In the second half of the fourteenth century outbreaks of bubonic plague led to severe depopulation: the economy was extremely localized in a few towns, and migration from the country led to agricultural land being abandoned, resulting in an increase in rural unemployment. Only the sea offered alternatives, with most people settling in fishing and trading areas along the coast. [5] Between 1325 and 1357 Afonso IV of Portugal granted public funding to raise a proper commercial fleet and ordered the first maritime explorations, with the help of Genoese, under command of admiral Manuel Pessanha. In 1341 the Canary Islands, already known to Genoese seafarers, were officially discovered under the patronage of the Portuguese king, but in 1344 Castile disputed ownership of them, further propelling the Portuguese navy efforts. [6]

In 1415, the Portuguese occupied Ceuta, aiming to control navigation along the African coast, moved also by the goal of expanding Christianity with the help of the Pope, and by a desire of the unemployed nobility for epic acts of war after the Reconquista. Young Prince Henry the Navigator was there and became aware of profit possibilities in the Saharan trade routes. Governor of the rich Order of Christ since 1420 and holding valuable monopolies on resources in Algarve, he invested in sponsoring voyages down the coast of Mauritania, gathering a group of merchants, shipowners, stakeholders and participants interested in the sea lanes. Later his brother Prince Pedro granted him a royal monopoly of all profits from trading within the areas discovered. Soon the Atlantic islands of Madeira (1420) and the Azores (1427) were reached. There, wheat and later sugarcane were cultivated, as in Algarve, by the Genoese, becoming profitable activities. This helped them become wealthier.

Henry the Navigator took the lead role in encouraging Portuguese maritime exploration until his death in 1460. [7] At the time, Europeans did not know what lay beyond Cape Bojador on the African coast. Henry wished to know how far the Muslim territories in Africa extended, and whether it was possible to reach Asia by sea, both to reach the source of the lucrative spice trade and perhaps to join forces with the long-lost Christian kingdom of Prester John that was rumoured to exist somewhere in the "Indies". [8] [9]

In 1419 two of Henry's captains, João Gonçalves Zarco and Tristão Vaz Teixeira were driven by a storm to Madeira, an uninhabited island off the coast of Africa which had probably been known to Europeans since the 14th century. In 1420 Zarco and Teixeira returned with Bartolomeu Perestrelo and began Portuguese settlement of the islands. A Portuguese attempt to capture Grand Canary, one of the nearby Canary Islands, which had been partially settled by Spaniards in 1402 was unsuccessful and met with protestations from Castile. [10] Although the exact details are uncertain, cartographic evidence suggests the Azores were probably discovered in 1427 by Portuguese ships sailing under Henry's direction, and settled in 1432, suggesting that the Portuguese were able to navigate at least 745 miles (1,200 km) from the Portuguese coast. [11]

At around the same time as the unsuccessful attack on the Canary Islands, the Portuguese began to explore the North African coast. Sailors feared what lay beyond Cape Bojador, and did not know whether it was possible to return once it was passed. In 1434 one of Prince Henry's captains, Gil Eanes, passed this obstacle. Once this psychological barrier had been crossed, it became easier to probe further along the coast. [12] Within two decades of exploration, Portuguese ships had bypassed the Sahara. Westward exploration continued over the same period: Diogo de Silves discovered the Azores island of Santa Maria in 1427 and in the following years Portuguese mariners discovered and settled the rest of the Azores.

Henry suffered a serious setback in 1437 after the failure of an expedition to capture Tangier, having encouraged his brother, King Edward, to mount an overland attack from Ceuta. The Portuguese army was defeated and only escaped destruction by surrendering Prince Ferdinand, the king's youngest brother. [13] After the defeat at Tangier, Henry retired to Sagres on the southern tip of Portugal where he continued to direct Portuguese exploration until his death in 1460.

In 1443 Prince Pedro, Henry's brother, granted him the monopoly of navigation, war and trade in the lands south of Cape Bojador. Later this monopoly would be enforced by the Papal bulls Dum Diversas (1452) and Romanus Pontifex (1455), granting Portugal a trade monopoly for the newly discovered countries, [14] laying the basis for the Portuguese empire.

A major advance which accelerated this project was the introduction of the caravel in the mid-15th century, a ship that could be sailed closer to the wind than any other in operation in Europe at the time. [15] Using this new maritime technology, Portuguese navigators reached ever more southerly latitudes, advancing at an average rate of one degree a year. [16] Senegal and Cape Verde Peninsula were reached in 1445. The first feitoria trade post overseas was established then under Henry's direction, in 1445 on the island of Arguin off the coast of Mauritania, to attract Muslim traders and monopolize the business in the routes traveled in North Africa, starting the chain of Portuguese feitorias along the coast. In 1446, Álvaro Fernandes pushed on almost as far as present-day Sierra Leone and the Gulf of Guinea was reached in the 1460s.

Exploration after Prince Henry Edit

As a result of the first meager returns of the African explorations, in 1469 king Afonso V granted the monopoly of trade in part of the Gulf of Guinea to merchant Fernão Gomes, for an annual payment of 200,000 reals. Gomes was also required to explore 100 leagues (480 km) of the coast each year for five years. [17] He employed explorers João de Santarém, Pedro Escobar, Lopo Gonçalves, Fernão do Pó, and Pedro de Sintra, and exceeded the requirement. Under his sponsorship, Portuguese explorers crossed the Equator into the Southern Hemisphere and found the islands in the Gulf of Guinea, including São Tomé and Príncipe. [18]

In 1471, Gomes' explorers reached Elmina on the Gold Coast (present day Ghana), and discovered a thriving overland gold trade between the natives and visiting Arab and Berber traders. Gomes established his own trading post there, which became known as “A Mina” ("The Mine"). Trade between Elmina and Portugal grew in the next decade. [19] In 1481, the recently crowned João II decided to build São Jorge da Mina fort (Elmina Castle) and factory to protect this trade, which was then held again as a royal monopoly.

In 1482, Diogo Cão discovered the mouth of the Congo River. In 1486, Cão continued to Cape Cross, in present-day Namibia, near the Tropic of Capricorn.

In 1488, Bartolomeu Dias rounded the Cape of Good Hope on the southern tip of Africa, disproving the view that had existed since Ptolemy that the Indian Ocean was separate from the Atlantic. Also at this time, Pêro da Covilhã reached India via Egypt and Yemen, and visited Madagascar. He recommended further exploration of the southern route. [20]

As the Portuguese explored the coastlines of Africa, they left behind a series of padrões, stone crosses inscribed with the Portuguese coat of arms marking their claims, [21] and built forts and trading posts. From these bases, the Portuguese engaged profitably in the slave and gold trades. Portugal enjoyed a virtual monopoly of the Atlantic slave trade for over a century, exporting around 800 slaves annually. Most were brought to the Portuguese capital Lisbon, where it is estimated black Africans came to constitute 10 percent of the population. [22]

Tordesillas division of the world (1492) Edit

In 1492 Christopher Columbus's discovery for Spain of the New World, which he believed to be Asia, led to disputes between the Spanish and Portuguese. These were eventually settled by the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494 which divided the world outside of Europe in an exclusive duopoly between the Portuguese and the Spanish, along a north–south meridian 370 leagues, or 970 miles (1,560 km), west of the Cape Verde islands. However, as it was not possible at the time to correctly measure longitude, the exact boundary was disputed by the two countries until 1777. [23]

The completion of these negotiations with Spain is one of several reasons proposed by historians for why it took nine years for the Portuguese to follow up on Dias's voyage to the Cape of Good Hope, though it has also been speculated that other voyages were, in fact, taking place in secret during this time. [24] [25] Whether or not this was the case, the long-standing Portuguese goal of finding a sea route to Asia was finally achieved in a ground-breaking voyage commanded by Vasco da Gama.

Reaching India and Brazil (1497–1500) Edit

Vasco da Gama's squadron left Portugal on 8 July 1497, consisting of four ships and a crew of 170 men. It rounded the Cape and continued along the coast of East Africa, where a local pilot was brought on board who guided them across the Indian Ocean, reaching Calicut in western India in May 1498. [26] After some conflict, da Gama got an ambiguous letter for trade with the Zamorin of Calicut, leaving there some men to establish a trading post.

Vasco da Gama's voyage to Calicut was the starting point for deployment of Portuguese feitoria posts along the east coast of Africa and in the Indian Ocean. [27] Shortly after, the Casa da Índia was established in Lisbon to administer the royal monopoly of navigation and trade. Exploration soon lost private support, and took place under the exclusive patronage of the Portuguese Crown.

The second voyage to India was dispatched in 1500 under Pedro Álvares Cabral. While following the same south-westerly route across the Atlantic Ocean as da Gama (to take advantage of the most favorable winds), Cabral made landfall on the Brazilian coast. This was probably an accidental discovery, but it has been speculated that the Portuguese secretly knew of Brazil's existence and that it lay on their side of the Tordesillas line. [28] Cabral recommended to the Portuguese King that the land be settled, and two follow-up voyages were sent in 1501 and 1503. The land was found to be abundant in pau-brasil, or brazilwood, from which it later inherited its name, but the failure to find gold or silver meant that for the time being Portuguese efforts were concentrated on India. [29]

The aim of Portugal in the Indian Ocean was to ensure the monopoly of the spice trade. Taking advantage of the rivalries that pitted Hindus against Muslims, the Portuguese established several forts and trading posts between 1500 and 1510. In East Africa, small Islamic states along the coast of Mozambique, Kilwa, Brava, Sofala and Mombasa were destroyed, or became either subjects or allies of Portugal. Pêro da Covilhã had reached Ethiopia, traveling secretly overland, as early as 1490 [30] a diplomatic mission reached the ruler of that nation on October 19, 1520.

In 1500 the second fleet to India (which also made landfall in Brazil) explored the East African coast, where Diogo Dias discovered the island that he named St. Lawrence, later known as Madagascar. This fleet, commanded by Pedro Álvares Cabral, arrived at Calicut in September, where the first trade agreement in India was signed. For a short time a Portuguese factory was installed there, but it was attacked by Muslims on December 16 and several Portuguese, including the scribe Pêro Vaz de Caminha, died. After bombarding Calicut as a retaliation, Cabral went to rival Kochi.

Profiting from the rivalry between the Maharaja of Kochi and the Zamorin of Calicut, the Portuguese were well received and seen as allies, getting a permit to build a fort (Fort Manuel) and a trading post that was the first European settlement in India. There in 1503 they built the St. Francis Church. [31] [32] In 1502 Vasco da Gama took the island of Kilwa on the coast of Tanzania, where in 1505 the first fort of Portuguese East Africa was built to protect ships sailing in the East Indian trade.

In 1505 king Manuel I of Portugal appointed Francisco de Almeida first Viceroy of Portuguese India for a three-year period, starting the Portuguese government in the east, headquartered at Kochi. That year the Portuguese conquered Kannur where they founded St. Angelo Fort. The Viceroy's son Lourenço de Almeida arrived in Ceylon (modern Sri Lanka), where he discovered the source of cinnamon. Finding it divided into seven rival kingdoms, he established a defense pact with the kingdom of Kotte and extended the control in coastal areas, where in 1517 was founded the fortress of Colombo. [33]

In 1506 a Portuguese fleet under the command of Tristão da Cunha and Afonso de Albuquerque, conquered Socotra at the entrance of the Red Sea and Muscat in 1507, having failed to conquer Ormuz, following a strategy intended to close those entrances into the Indian Ocean. That same year, fortresses were built in the Island of Mozambique and Mombasa on the Kenyan coast. Madagascar was partly explored by Tristão da Cunha and in the same year Mauritius was discovered.

In 1509, the Portuguese won the sea Battle of Diu against the combined forces of the Ottoman Sultan Beyazid II, the Sultan of Gujarat, the Mamlûk Sultan of Cairo, the Samoothiri Raja of Kozhikode, the Venetian Republic, and the Ragusan Republic (Dubrovnik). The Portuguese victory was critical for its strategy of control of the Indian Ocean: the Turks and Egyptians withdrew their navies from India, leaving the seas to the Portuguese, setting its trade dominance for almost a century, and greatly assisting the growth of the Portuguese Empire. It also marked the beginning of European colonial dominance in Asia. A second Battle of Diu in 1538 finally ended Ottoman ambitions in India, and confirmed Portuguese hegemony in the Indian Ocean.

Under the government of Albuquerque, Goa was taken from the Bijapur sultanate in 1510 with the help of Hindu privateer Timoji. Coveted for being the best port in the region, mainly for the commerce in Arabian horses for the Deccan sultanates, it allowed the Portuguese to move on from their initial guest stay in Cochin. Despite constant attacks, Goa became the seat of the Portuguese government, under the name of Estado da India (State of India), with the conquest triggering compliance of neighbor kingdoms: Gujarat and Calicut sent embassies, offering alliances and grants to fortify. Albuquerque began that year in Goa the first Portuguese mint in India, taking the opportunity to announce the achievement. [34] [35]

Southeast Asia expeditions Edit

In April 1511 Albuquerque sailed to Malacca in modern-day Malaysia, [36] the most important eastern point in the trade network, where Malay met Gujarati, Chinese, Japanese, Javanese, Bengali, Persian and Arabic traders, described by Tomé Pires as invaluable. The port of Malacca became then the strategic base for Portuguese trade expansion with China and Southeast Asia, under the Portuguese rule in India with its capital at Goa. To defend the city a strong fort was erected, called the "A Famosa", where one of its gates still remains today. Learning of Siamese ambitions over Malacca, Albuquerque immediately sent Duarte Fernandes on a diplomatic mission to the kingdom of Siam (modern Thailand), where he was the first European to arrive, establishing amicable relations between the two kingdoms. [37] In November that year, getting to know the location of the so-called "Spice Islands" in the Moluccas, Albuquerque sent an expedition to find them. Led by António de Abreu, the expedition arrived in early 1512. Abreu went by Ambon, while his deputy commander Francisco Serrão advanced to Ternate, where a Portuguese fort was allowed. That same year, in Indonesia, the Portuguese took Makassar, reaching Timor in 1514. Departing from Malacca, Jorge Álvares came to southern China in 1513. This visit followed the arrival in Guangzhou, where trade was established. Later a trading post at Macau would be established.

The Portuguese empire expanded into the Persian Gulf as Portugal contested control of the spice trade with the Ottoman Empire. In 1515, Afonso de Albuquerque conquered the Huwala state of Hormuz at the head of the Persian Gulf, establishing it as a vassal state. Aden, however, resisted Albuquerque's expedition in that same year, and another attempt by Albuquerque's successor Lopo Soares de Albergaria in 1516. Bahrain was captured in 1521, when a force led by António Correia defeated the Jabrid King, Muqrin ibn Zamil. [38] In a shifting series of alliances, the Portuguese dominated much of the southern Persian Gulf for the next hundred years. The island of Mozambique became a strategic port on the regular maritime route linking Lisbon to Goa, and Fort São Sebastião and a hospital were built there. In the Azores, the Armada of the Islands protected ships from the Indies en route to Lisbon.

In 1525, after Fernão de Magalhães's expedition (1519–1522), Spain under Charles V sent an expedition to colonize the Moluccas islands, claiming that they were in his zone of the Treaty of Tordesillas, since there was not a set limit to the east. Led by García Jofre de Loaísa, the expedition reached the Moluccas, docking at Tidore. Conflict with the Portuguese already established in nearby Ternate was inevitable, starting nearly a decade of skirmishes. An agreement was reached only with the Treaty of Zaragoza (1529), which gave the Moluccas to Portugal and the Philippines to Spain.

In 1530, John III organized the colonization of Brazil around 15 capitanias hereditárias ("hereditary captainships"), that were given to anyone who wanted to administer and explore them, to overcome the need to defend the territory, since an expedition under the command of Gonçalo Coelho in 1503 had found the French making incursions on the land. That same year, there was a new expedition from Martim Afonso de Sousa with orders to patrol the whole Brazilian coast, banish the French, and create the first colonial towns: São Vicente on the coast, and São Paulo near the edge of the inland plateau (planalto) and the Serra do Mar. From the 15 original captainships, only two, Pernambuco and São Vicente, prospered. With permanent settlement came the establishment of the sugar cane industry and its intensive labor demands which were met with Native American and later African slaves.

In 1534 Gujarat was occupied by the Mughals and the Sultan Bahadur Shah of Gujarat was forced to sign the Treaty of Bassein (1534) with the Portuguese, establishing an alliance to regain the country, giving in exchange Daman, Diu, Mumbai and Bassein. [39] In 1538 the fortress of Diu was again surrounded by Ottoman ships. Another siege failed in 1547, putting an end to Ottoman ambitions and confirming Portuguese hegemony.

In 1542 Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier arrived in Goa at the service of King John III of Portugal, in charge of an Apostolic Nunciature. At the same time Francisco Zeimoto, António Mota, and other traders arrived in Japan for the first time. According to Fernão Mendes Pinto, who claimed to be in this journey, they arrived at Tanegashima, where the locals were impressed by European firearms, which would be immediately made by the Japanese on a large scale. [40] In 1557 the Chinese authorities allowed the Portuguese to settle in Macau through an annual payment, creating a warehouse in the triangular trade between China, Japan and Europe. In 1570 the Portuguese bought a Japanese port where they founded the city of Nagasaki, [41] thus creating a trading center that for many years was the port from Japan to the world.

Portugal established trading ports at far-flung locations like Goa, Ormuz, Malacca, Kochi, the Maluku Islands, Macau, and Nagasaki. Guarding its trade from both European and Asian competitors, Portugal dominated not only the trade between Asia and Europe, but also much of the trade between different regions of Asia, such as India, Indonesia, China, and Japan. Jesuit missionaries, such as the Basque Francis Xavier, followed the Portuguese to spread Roman Catholic Christianity to Asia with mixed success.

The successive expeditions and experience of the pilots led to a fairly rapid evolution in Portuguese nautical science, creating an elite of astronomers, navigators, mathematicians and cartographers. Among them stood Pedro Nunes with studies on how to determine latitude by the stars, and João de Castro, who made important observations of magnetic declination over the entire route around Africa.

Ships Edit

Until the 15th century, the Portuguese were limited to cabotage navigation using barques and barinels (ancient cargo vessels used in the Mediterranean). These boats were small and fragile, with only one mast with a fixed quadrangular sail and did not have the capabilities to overcome the navigational difficulties associated with southward oceanic exploration, as the strong winds, shoals and strong ocean currents easily overwhelmed their abilities. They are associated with the earliest discoveries, such as the Madeira Islands, the Azores, the Canaries, and to the early exploration of the northwest African coast as far south as Arguim in the current Mauritania.

The ship that truly launched the first phase of the Portuguese discoveries along the African coast was the caravel, a development based on existing fishing boats. They were agile and easier to navigate, with a tonnage of 50 to 160 tons and 1 to 3 masts, with lateen triangular sails allowing luffing. The caravel benefited from a greater capacity to tack. The caravel's limited capacity for cargo and crew were its main drawbacks, but these did not hinder its success. Among the famous caravels are Berrio, which was the first ship of Vasco da Gama's first armada to reach Portugal after the voyage, and Anunciação (Nossa Senhora da Anunciação), which sailed with Cabral in 1500.

With the start of long oceanic sailing, larger ships were also developed. "Nau" was the Portuguese archaic synonym for any large ship, primarily merchant ships. Due to the piracy that plagued the coasts, they began to be used in the navy and were provided with cannon ports, which led to the classification of "naus" according to the power of the ship's artillery. They were also adapted to the increasing maritime trade: from 200 tons capacity in the 15th century to 500 tons later, they become impressive in the 16th century, having usually two decks, fighting castles fore and aft, and two to four masts with overlapping sails. In voyages to India in the sixteenth century, carracks were also used. These were large merchant ships with a high edge (freeboard) and three masts with square sails, which often reached 2000 tons.

Celestial navigation Edit

In the thirteenth century celestial navigation was already known, guided by the sun position. For celestial navigation the Portuguese, like other Europeans, used Arab navigation tools, like the astrolabe and quadrant, which they made easier and simpler. They also created the cross-staff, or cane of Jacob, for measuring at sea the height of the sun and other stars. The Southern Cross become a reference upon arrival in the Southern hemisphere by João de Santarém and Pedro Escobar in 1471, starting the use of this constellation in celestial navigation. But the results varied throughout the year, which required corrections.

To this the Portuguese used the astronomical tables (Ephemeris), precious tools for oceanic navigation, which experienced a remarkable diffusion in the fifteenth century. These tables revolutionized navigation, allowing mariners to calculate their latitude. Vasco da Gama and Pedro Álvares Cabral used the tables of the Almanach Perpetuum by astronomer Abraham Zacuto, which were published in Leiria in 1496, along with his improved astrolabe.

Sailing techniques Edit

Besides coastal exploration, Portuguese also made trips off in the ocean to gather meteorological and oceanographic information (in these trips were discovered the archipelagos of Madeira and the Azores, and the Sargasso Sea). The knowledge of wind patterns and currents – the trade winds and the oceanic gyres in the Atlantic, and the determination of latitude led to the discovery of the best ocean route back from Africa: crossing the Central Atlantic to the latitude of the Azores, using the permanent favorable winds and currents that spin clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere because of atmospheric circulation and the Coriolis effect, facilitating the way to Lisbon and thus enabling the Portuguese to venture increasingly farther from shore, the maneuver that became known as "Volta do mar". In 1565, application of this principle in the Pacific Ocean led to the Spanish discovery of the Manila Galleon trade route between Mexico and the Philippines.

Cartography Edit

It is thought that Jehuda Cresques, son of the Catalan cartographer Abraham Cresques has been one of the notable cartographers at the service of Prince Henry. However, the oldest signed Portuguese sea chart is a Portolan made by Pedro Reinel in 1485 representing Western Europe and parts of Africa, reflecting the explorations made by Diogo Cão. Reinel was also author of the first nautical chart known with an indication of latitudes in 1504 and the first representation of a Wind rose.

With his son, cartographer Jorge Reinel and Lopo Homem, they participated in the making of the atlas known as "Lopo Homem-Reinés Atlas" or "Miller Atlas", in 1519. They were considered the best cartographers of their time, with Emperor Charles V wanting them to work for him. In 1517 King Manuel I of Portugal handed Lopo Homem a charter giving him the privilege to certify and amend all compass needles in vessels.

In the third phase of the former Portuguese nautical cartography, characterized by the abandonment of the influence of Ptolemy's representation of the East and more accuracy in the representation of lands and continents, stands out Fernão Vaz Dourado (Goa

1580), giving him a reputation as one of the best cartographers of the time. Many of his charts are large scale.

The Age of Discovery

T he beginning of Portugal's pioneering role in world exploration may be traced back to as far as 1279, when King Diniz set out to improve Portugal's emerging navy. He invited a Genoese sea captain to Portugal and placed him in charge of developing the mercantile and naval fleets. He also ordered the Atlantic coastline planted with trees to provide timber for the ocean-going fleets he envisioned in Portugal's future. In 1341, a fleet of three vessels sailed from Lisbon and explored the Canary Islands, off the northwestern coast of Africa. Although the expedition showed no profit and Castile later gained control of the islands, this voyage was the first official exploring expedition by a European state. Portuguese captains soon became the best in Europe, sailing the most maneuverable ships and applying the latest innovations in the fields of navigation and cartography.

For many centuries there had been three main trade routes from the east to the Mediterranean and Europe -- a long overland journey from China across Central Asia to the Black Sea, by ship from India to the Persian Gulf, and then overland over Baghdad or Damascus to Mediterranean ports. Once goods reached these ports, they were then monopolized by the northern Italian city-states, especially Venice or Genoa, which distributed the products throughout Europe.
Spices were more a necessity than a luxury to Europeans. During winter, they had to eat meat from animals that had been slaughtered in the fall. Much of this meat was spoiled by the time it was consumed, and spices, especially pepper, could disguise the taste and smell. Prices in Europe for these goods were high, and profits were good. The Portuguese hoped they could find their own route to the Indies and break the Venetian stranglehold.

Because of their ignorance of the large size of the African continent, the Portuguese were obsessed with conquering Morocco in North Africa, which they saw as a stepping stone to control the gold trade. As a result, Prince Henry the Navigator laid plains to conquer the Moroccan trading port of Ceuta. A fleet of two hundred vessels landed troops outside the walls of the city, and it fell to the Portuguese in 1415 after just one day of fighting. From here on, Prince Henry the Navigator set Portugal on its course towards overseas expansion. He established a center for study of navigation, naval architecture, and astronomy at Sagres in southern Portugal, where they developed a powerful ship called the caravel. Its advantage over the older ships was its triangular sail, which could be trimmed to allow the ship to proceed in either cross or head winds. Prince Henry began dispatching ships into the Atlantic with orders to proceed as far as possible, map the coast or any islands sighted, and return. Soon, one of his captains came across the islands of Madeira and Azores.

Many uneducated people believed in sea monsters, huge whirlpools, a searing sun and boiling waters in the outer regions of the Atlantic Ocean that killed anyone who came close. Prince Henry ordered one of his most trusted captains, Gil Eanes, to round Cape Bojador, the feared place, where some believed boiling waters produced an intense heat which no man could survive. It is said that Eanes turned back fifteen times before finally passing it in 1433. Within a decade after Eanes' breakthrough, Prince Henry's ships began to bring gold dust and slaves back from the African coast. When Prince Henry died in 1460, some 1500 miles of African coastline had been discovered and partially mapped, and the Azores and Madeira Islands were active colonies. In the next two decades, Portuguese captains made more progress, venturing down the northwestern coast of Africa past present-day Sierra Leone and Liberia into the Gulf of Guinea. At this time, the Portuguese were enjoying a tremendous advantage over other European nations in both ship design and navigation. They had been able to determine their latitude by sighting the North Star through an Astrolabe and measuring the apparent distance of the star from the horizon. Eventually, they were also able to explore waters south of the equator where the North Star was not visible. These improvements in navigational instruments and methods led to refinements in the field of cartography. Portuguese maps of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries were the best in Europe, and foreign spies in Lisbon often attempted to buy or steal them. As a result, the Portuguese had to safeguard their maps by giving them the status of state secrets. A royal decree forbade the circulation of maps showing the sailing routes south of the Congo River in Africa.

In 1487 Bartholomeu Dias sailed from Lisbon with two caravels and a supply ship, and became the first to round the African continent. He sailed on for a few days, but fearful of running out of food and exhausted by the freezing weather, he turned back. He arrived in Lisbon in December of 1488 and told King John's court of his marking of the southern extent of Africa. Among those present was a Genoese navigator - Christopher Columbus. Columbus was disheartened to hear the news because he had come to the king to present him his own proposal for reaching the Indies by sailing west. The king did hear him and established a committee consisting of geographers, mathematicians and cartographers to look into it. There was reason to believe there were undiscovered islands to the west, since from time to time, various unknown objects drifted onto the shores of the Azores, other islands, and even mainland Europe. It was well known by educated men that the earth was round, so land to the west was a certainty, but no one knew how far it was. The width of Asia, which Columbus proposed to reach, was unknown so there was a strong possibility that he would sail off into the setting sun, never to be seen again. The king rejected Columbus for this reason, and also because he had already invested a good deal of money in the African route to the Indies. Dissipation of royal resources would be dangerous, and demands by Columbus to be made the Admiral of the Ocean Sea and be given the hereditary title of viceroy of all lands he discovered, as well as one-tenth of the profits he brought back, may have also deterred the king, who had many competent navigators in his own realm. Columbus went off to seek his fortunes in Spain, where he got the support he wanted. Columbus' first voyage brought him to San Salvador Island in the Bahamas, part of several island groups later referred to as the West Indies, which he took to be the outer reaches of Asia. On his return to Europe, Columbus rushed to Lisbon, where he told a fantastically embellished story of jewels and gold-roofed houses he found, which would have been put in Portugal's hands if only the king had believed him. The king believed little of what Columbus claimed beyond the fact that new islands had been discovered.

In 1494 Portugal and Spain signed the Treaty of Tordesillas, which divided the world into Portuguese and Spanish hemispheres along a north-south line 370 leagues west of the Canaries. An earlier draft had set the line 270 leagues from the islands, but Portugal insisted on a more distant line. This has led scholars to speculate that Portugal must have had some knowledge of the geography of South America, perhaps as a result of a voyage prior to Columbus', because the new line later put Brazil into its possession.
The Portuguese king then chose Vasco da Gama to lead the first Portuguese expedition around Africa to India. After a prayer service in Lisbon on the banks of the Tagus River, Da Gama's fleet of four vessels set sail on July 7, 1497. One of the ships carried supplies for three years, and the crews consisted of 168 men, including convicts assigned to especially dangerous work. His fleet had been out of sight of land for ninety-six days - the longest such a voyage ever made to that time - until it finally landed at St. Helena Bay. Sighting a new coastline on Christmas Day, they gave it the name of Natal ("Christmas" in Portuguese). He reached Calicut on May 14, 1498, and spices were taken on board. As disease and accidents began to take a toll on his men, Da Gama set sail for Portugal on August 29, 1498. He reached Lisbon in September 1499, concluding a voyage of two years and two months. Of the 168 men who had begun the voyage, 44 returned. Despite this loss, Da Gama was finally able to do what Eanes, Dias, Columbus and others had tried before -- reach India by sea and join the Old World to the even older civilizations of Asia, until then isolated by the Islamic powers of the Middle East. This historic voyage drastically changed Europe and the course of world history.

The Portuguese king, Manuel I, proclaimed Da Gama's discoveries throughout Europe and immediately took for himself the grand title of Lord of Conquest, Navigation, and Commerce of Ethiopia, Arabia, Persia, and India. Lisbon's harbor became one of the busiest in Europe during his rein, as spices such as pepper, ginger, cinnamon, and saffron were prized commodities in the India-Europe trade. King Manuel was referred to as "Manuel the Fortunate" because his rein finally saw the creation of the Asian empire for which his predecessors had long labored. The wealthy king delighted in exotic pleasures. He was the first Christian king to own an elephant and a rhinoceros, and paraded in the company of an Iranian retainer, who rode with a leopard perched on his horse. There were also great achievements in architecture during his reign. A new style emerged, named after the king - Manueline Architecture. This is seen today in Lisbon's Jeronimos Monastery and Belem tower, in Batalha's monastery, and in many churches around the country.

Just six months after Da Gama's return, Pedro Alvares Cabral set out from Lisbon with the largest fleet yet assembled, piloted by the best navigators in Portugal. The departure was an occasion of grand and solemn ceremony. Cabral followed the same route as Da Gama, but a storm caused him to touch land somewhere else - South America or more precisely, the area of today's Brazil. Historians are still debating, however, whether Cabral truly discovered Brazil, or whether Portugal already knew of its existence. There's a possibility that Cabral merely conducted an official mission of "discovery" to assert a proper claim. One ship was ordered to return to Lisbon with the news, and Cabral set sail for India. Once in India, Cabral took on cargo and headed home. Only six ships out of the original thirteen returned to Lisbon, but the rich cargo of spices more than paid for the lost vessels.

Later, the Portuguese were the first Europeans to visit Japan, arriving accidentally in 1543 when a storm drove a trading ship onto the island of Tanegashima. The Japanese were fascinated by the Portuguese, and in particular by their mustaches, odd clothes, and the unoriental size of their noses. Buttons, which were unheard of in Japan, also attracted their attention. Japanese paintings from about this time, now in Lisbon's Ancient Art Museum, emphasize these "oddities." The Portuguese later sold Chinese silk for Japanese silver, since the two great Asian powers could not bear to deal with each other.
The Portuguese also gathered pepper from Malabar and Indonesia mace and nutmeg from the Banda Islands cloves from the Moluccas, cinnamon from Ceylon horses from Arabia among other precious commodities. From Brazil to Japan, stately cargo vessels voyaged to distant ports to gather exotic goods for the warehouses of Lisbon. Although Portugal's monopoly came to an end in the seventeenth century, Portugal still had a foothold in India until the 1960s and in Africa until the 1970s. The first European empire lived to be the last, and Portugal will forever be known as the Land of Discovery.

10 Portuguese explorers who changed the world

by VxMag


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T here was a time when the Portuguese dominated the seas and set out to discover and conquer new worlds. The Portuguese explorers were responsible for discovering more than 70% of the world previously unknown to Europeans. Many of these discoveries were not made official because Portugal was too small to be able to dominate, colonize and defend all territories against the other European powers. Territories such as Greenland, Newfoundland and Australia were discovered by the Portuguese and colonized by other peoples. Even small islands or archipelagos were left to abandon after discovered, such as the Maldives or Vanuatu. These are some of the most famous Portuguese explorers.

1. Vasco da Gama

Vasco da Gama

Vasco da Gama was born in Sines in 1468/69, and died in Cochin, India on December 24, 1524. The third of six brothers, son of Stephen of the Gama – governor of Sines – and Isabel Sodré and grandson of a homonym Vasco da Gama, judge in Elvas. He was a Portuguese navigator and explorer during the Age of Discovery, distinguished by his work as commander of the first ships to sail directly from Europe to India. At the end of his life he was, for a short time, governor of Portuguese India with the title of Viceroy.

2. Pedro Álvares Cabral

Pedro Álvares Cabral

A few months after Vasco da Gama arrived from India, and according to the information he had given the Portuguese king, a new armada was prepared with orders to wage war if necessary, in addition to establishing commercial relations in the region. Pedro Álvares Cabral commanded thirteen ships with about 1200 men. Purposely or due to a storm, the navy made a greater deviation to the west and to the 22 of April of 1500 was sighted terra firma. Pedro Álvares Cabral ordered the return to Portugal of a ship with the famous “Carta de Pero Vaz de Caminha a El-Rei D. Manuel I”, reporting the discovery of the Land of Vera Cruz (later called Brazil). This discovery and control of the Brazilian coastline will become critical to maintaining the safety of shipping to India. Brazil is integrated into the empire without a definite plan, which did not prevent D. Manuel from ordering its economic exploitation and consequent colonization.

3. Ferdinand Magellan

Ferdinand Magellan

In search of fame and fortune, Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan (c. 1480-1521) set out from Spain in 1519 with a fleet of five ships to discover a western sea route to the Spice Islands. En route he discovered what is now known as the Strait of Magellan and became the first European to cross the Pacific Ocean. The voyage was long and dangerous, and only one ship returned home three years later. Although it was laden with valuable spices from the East, only 18 of the fleet’s original crew of 270 returned with the ship. Magellan himself was killed in battle on the voyage, but his ambitious expedition proved that the globe could be circled by sea and that the world was much larger than had previously been imagined.

4. Christopher Columbus

Christopher Columbus

It has always been up for debate weather Christopher Columbus’s nationality was Spanish or Portuguese, but nowadays historians are inclining more and more towards Italian. He lived in Portugal for quite a while, and therefore is included in our list. Between 1492 and 1503, he managed to complete four voyages, all of them starting off the coast of Spain and towards the North and South America. His endeavors were founded by the Crown of Castile. He famously discovered North America in 1492, whilst being convinced that he had actually reached the shores of India. Columbus’s voyages notably mark the onset of European exploration of the world, but also of its colonization.

5. Diogo Cão

Diogo Cão

Diogo Cão was a Portuguese navigator of the fifteenth century who was possibly born in the Parish of Sá, in the municipality of Monção, or in the region of Vila Real, or even in Évora, at an unknown date, since only the royal family made concrete records of the date of birth and death. Squire and later Knight of the House of the Infante D. Henrique, realized in the reign of D. John II two trips of discovery of the coast southwest African, between 1482 and 1486. After several problems he continued to the point of the Farilhões (Serra Parda), at 22º 10′, south latitude, where he returned to Zaire, who went up to visit the Congo King with whom he established his first relations, leaving an inscription confirming his arrival at the falls of Ielala, near Matadi. Arriving at the mouth of the Zaire River, Diogo Cão thought he had reached the southernmost point of the African continent (Cape of Good Hope), which was actually bent by Bartolomeu Dias shortly thereafter, and which he initially called Cape Storm. In 1485 it arrived at the Cape of the Cross (present Namibia). He introduced the use of stone patterns, instead of wooden crosses, to mark the Portuguese presence in the discovered areas.

6. Diogo Silves

Azores old map

Portuguese navigator of the XV century, was born in Silves, Algarve, and rendered services to the Infante D. Henrique, as pilot, in the time of the Discoveries. It is thought that it was thanks to a deviation that occurred during a habitual trip in the Atlantic Ocean that this sailor discovered the Azorean islands of the central and eastern groups in 1427. The first island to be sighted and contributed was that of Santa Maria. The feat of Diogo de Silves is known thanks to the allusion made to him by Gabriel de Valsequa, a Catalan cartographer, in 1439.

7. Bartolomeu Dias

Bartolomeu Dias

Bartolomeu Dias, a Portuguese of Jewish origins born in 1450, won his place in the history of Portugal and the World because he was the first European to sail beyond the southern tip of the European continent. The Portuguese navigator, in the service of Dom Joao II, King of Portugal, was able to “double” Cape Storm, a place that would henceforth be known as Cape of Good Hope in a clear allusion to the fact that this the starting point for reaching the Indian Ocean from the Atlantic Ocean and all the economic and expansionary possibilities that this had at the time. Bartolomeu Dias was entrusted with this important mission above all because he was a man of a level of training who guaranteed to the Portuguese monarch a very large percentage of possible success.

8. Gaspar and Miguel Corte Real

Labrador map

The Corte Real brothers were members of a noble Portuguese family. Gaspar was apparently the more aggressive of the two. In 1499 he learned of a grant from King Manoel I to a fellow Portuguese, John Fernandes, to undertake an expedition into the North Atlantic. Manoel sought to establish Portuguese control over a Northwest Passage to India and the Spice Islands. He also wanted someone who would establish Portugal’s claims to any new lands that might be discovered in this area. Fernandes did not immediately make use of his grant from the King. Gaspar seized the opportunity to obtain royal permission to undertake his own exploratory expedition in May 1500. Gaspar Corte Real left Lisbon in the summer of 1500 in a fleet of three ships, financed by his family. He sailed first to Greenland and spent several months exploring its shoreline. During this time he contacted the natives, whom he compared to the wild natives of Brazil. His ships stayed in Greenland’s waters until the winter icebergs forced them to leave. Gaspar and his ships returned to Portugal in late 1500. The following year Gaspar organized another expedition, this time in conjunction with his brother Miguel. Their expedition departed in May 1501, again bound for unknown lands to the northwest. When they reached land after about 5 weeks, they found themselves on the shores of Labrador. They explored south along the coast, charting approximately 600 miles of shore.

9. João Gonçalves Zarco and Tristão Vaz Teixeira

João Gonçalves Zarco and Tristão Vaz Teixeira

João Gonçalves Zarco (1390 – 1471) was a Portuguese explorer who established settlements and recognition of the Madeira Islands, and was appointed first captain of Funchal by Henry the Navigator. Zarco was born in Portugal, and became a knight at the service of Prince Henry the Navigator’s household. In his service at an early age, Zarco commanded the caravels guarding the coast of Algarve from the incursions of the Moors, was at the conquest of Ceuta, and later led the caravels that recognized the island of Porto Santo in 1418 to 1419 and afterward, the island of Madeira 1419 to 1420. Tristão Vaz Teixeira (1395 –1480) was a Portuguese navigator and explorer who, together with João Gonçalves Zarco and Bartolomeu Perestrelo, was the official discoverer and one of the first settlers of the archipelago of Madeira (1419–1420). Tristão was a nobleman of Prince Henry the Navigator’s House, taking part in the conquest of Ceuta. Around 1418, while exploring the coast of Africa, he and João Gonçalves Zarco were taken off course by bad weather, and came upon an island which they called Porto Santo (Holy Harbor). Shortly after, they were ordered by Prince Henry to settle the island, together with Bartolomeu Perestrelo. Following a rabbit outbreak that made it difficult to grow crops, they moved to the nearby island of Madeira

10. Duarte Pacheco Pereira

Duarte Pacheco Pereira

Duarte Pacheco Pereira (1460 – 1533), called the Portuguese Achilles (Aquiles Lusitano) by the poet Camões, was a Portuguese sea captain, soldier, explorer and cartographer. He travelled particularly in the central Atlantic Ocean west of the Cape Verde islands, along the coast of West Africa and to India. His accomplishments in strategic warfare, exploration, mathematics and astronomy were of an exceptional level. It has also been suggested that Duarte Pacheco Pereira may have discovered the coasts of Maranhão, Pará and Marajó island and the mouth of the Amazon River in 1498, preceding the possible landings of the expeditions of Amerigo Vespucci in 1499, of Vicente Yáñez Pinzon in January 1500, and of Diego de Lepe in February 1500 and the Cabral`s expedition in April 1500, making him the first known European explorer of present-day Brazil. This claim is based on interpretations of the cipher manuscript Esmeraldo de Situ Orbis, written by Duarte Pacheco Pereira.

Facts about Portugal: Made in Portugal

Portuguese is an official language of nine other countries

As a result of Portugal’s imperial ambitions, Portuguese is an official language in Angola, Brazil, Cabo Verde, East Timor, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Macau, Mozambique, Sāo Tomé and Principe, as well as Goa in India. It is the sixth-most spoken first language in the world with around 220 million speakers native speakers.

Around 81% of Portugal’s population are Roman Catholics

Christianity first came to Portugal when it was part of the Roman Empire. Church and state were separate since the days of the First Republic (1920-1926). However, Catholic moral and legal codes have a deep foundation, while most traditional festivals and fairs have religious origins. According to the 2011 census, 81% of people that live in Portugal are Catholic.

Monks and nuns created some of Portugal’s tastiest traditional treats

You can eat a nun’s belly (barrigas de freira), an angel’s double chin (papos de anjo), and fat from heaven (toucinho do céu) in Portugal these are all delicious pastries. Historically, the monks and nuns in Portugal’s many monasteries and convents used egg whites to starch their habits and preserve wine. This left an abundance of leftover egg yolks, which they ended up using to make tasty cakes and pastries.

Papos de anjo

The longest bridge in Europe was once in Portugal

A six-lane, cable-stayed Vasco de Gama Bridge crosses the Tagus River in Lisbon. The bridge is 12 kilometers in length and allows long-distance traffic to bypass the city entirely. The Vasco de Gama Bridge was the longest bridge in Europe from 1998 until 2018, when the 17-kilometer Crimean Bridge surpassed it by five kilometers.

Lisbon’s Livraria Bertrand is the world’s oldest bookshop

Founded in 1732, Livraria Bertrand was just a single bookshop. Sadly, this initial store was one of the many casualties of the Great Lisbon Earthquake in 1755. The earthquake scored 8.5 on the Richter scale and left around 60,000 people dead. Livraria Bertrand then set up shop on Rua Garrett in 1773, where it still stands. Nowadays, there are around 50 branches of Livraria Bertrand across Portugal.

The Portuguese are fatalists

Portugal has a tradition of fado, the idea that one’s fate is impossible to escape. This is also the name of a form of traditional Portuguese singing that carries the UNESCO World Intangible Cultural Heritage status. Fado are melancholic songs of love, loss, hopefulness, and resignation – accompanied by soulful guitars, mandolins, and violins. You will often hear them in bars, cafés, and restaurants. Fado also appears in everyday speech. For example, people often use the expression oxalá, which means ‘hopefully’ or ‘if only’, from the Arabic inshallah (‘god willing’).

Fado band performing traditional Portuguese music

Japanese tempura is actually a Portuguese invention

One of Japan’s most well-known dishes is tempura. However, this dish of battered, deep-fried vegetables and seafood was actually invented by Portuguese traders and missionaries living in Nagasaki. Tempura ultimately spread across Japan during the 16 th century.

One Portuguese town made the world’s largest omelet

On 11 August 2012, a group of locals was a little hungry. In Santerém, 55 people spent six hours cooking the world’s largest omelet. They used 145,000 eggs, 400 kilograms of oil, and 100 kilograms of butter to make the 6,466-kilogram omelet.

Once a European power in the age of exploration, Portugal isn't seen as a mighty or influential nation in the world today. What caused this?

I know this question covers a long period of history. They often are covered in world history in the US during the 1400s but largely disappear from the history books into the 1500s and 1600s.

What events led to their general disappearance as other European powers rose and spread across the Western Hemisphere?

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Finally a question I can answer! The reasons for the decline of Portugal from its height as the first colonial power to its situation today as, at best, a middling european power are varied and extend over centuries. First, Portugal had an inherent disadvantage to other colonial powers like England, France, or neighboring Spain it's simply a smaller country. It had a smaller population and economy, which meant it had fewer people to send overseas, fewer funds to spend on them, and a smaller army to defend them with. The second blow to Portugal’s power was its union with Spain beginning in 1580 after the death of King Sebastian, and lasting to 1640 with Portuguese Restoration War. During this time under the Spanish crown, Spain's enemies became Portugal’s enemies, those being most importantly the Dutch and British, who now having the opportunity to do so, took many of Portugal’s colonies and trading posts in the Indian Ocean, such as Hormuz and Malacca, as well as making attacks into Brazil. This along with having to devote resources to Spain’s numerous wars during this period (including contributing ships to the infamous Spanish Armada) drained Portugal greatly, and from this point forward only declined relative to the rapid growth of the other colonial powers. In 1755 Portugal experienced one of the worst earthquakes in European history off its coast, resulting in the widespread damage and the near complete destruction of its capital and largest city, Lisbon. The Peninsula war in 1808 and the loss of Brazil (its richest colony) in 1822 Portugal further hurt Portugal, though at this point they simply cemented Portugal’s poor position. Lack of large deposits of coal or other resources meant industrialization came slowly to Portugal, which as the 19th century progressed only hurt it. During the scramble for Africa Portugal, despite having colonies in Africa for over 400 years by then generally just expanded around their existing holdings. Portugal in the 20th century was marked by the Estado Novo, a dictatorship lasting from 1933-1974, a dictatorship which saw general isolation from the world, except for fruitless, costly wars trying to retain their colonies.

In conclusion, (tldr) Portugal from the start was doomed to a certain degree to not achieve the same height of successes of its competitors, and despite its early start it was further set back and mired by numerous disasters and generally unfortunate events.

I hope this was sufficiently in depth, and while I'm sure I missed certain elements, I hope this gives you a good general insight on this topic.

Famous explorers of the Age of Discovery

Christopher Columbus (1451 – 1506) An Italian born explorer, Columbus made four ground-breaking voyages to the Americas. Sailing in uncharted seas, Columbus’ voyages across the Atlantic led to landing on the Americas. His journeys paved the way for others to follow.

John Cabot (1450 – 1499) An Italian navigator and explorer. In 1497, he sailed west from Britain hoping to reach Asia. He actually landed in Canada which he claimed for King Henry VII.

Pedro Cabal (1467 – c. 1520) A Portuguese sailor and explorer. He was the first European to sail to Brazil arriving on 22 April 1500. He was also the first to lead an expedition which landed on four main continents: Europe, Africa, America, and Asia.

Henry the Navigator – (1394 – 1460) A Portuguese prince, Henry was an influential person in the Age of Discovery. He encouraged a new policy of outward expansion and voyages of discovery. His court was a focus for improving technical and practical knowledge about ocean sailing. Finding reliable trade winds, significantly helped improve cross-Ocean travel. He wished to explore new lands by sea and claim them for a Portuguese Empire. It encouraged other European nations to follow suit.

Vasco de Gama (1469 – 1524) Vasco de Gama was a Portuguese explorer who was the first European to reach India by sea. De Gama made a direct voyage to India – travelling around the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa – arriving in Calicut in 1498.

Gaspar Corte-Real (1450 – 1501) A Portuguese explorer who led pathfinding voyages towards Newfoundland, Greenland, Canada and the northwest passage. He was sponsored by the Portuguese crown. He disappeared while on exploration and was never found.

Ferdinand Magellan (1480 – 1521) Portuguese sailor and adventurer who led the first expedition to make a successful circumnavigation of the globe. Magellan also made the first crossing from the Atlantic into the Pacific and also the first successful crossing of the Pacific Ocean. He died before the expedition reached Europe.

Hernando Cortes (1485 – 1547) Born in Medellin, Spain, Cortes was an adventurer and conquistador who conquered the Aztec lands of modern-day Mexico and brought them under Spanish rule.

Sir Francis Drake (1540 – 1597) Drake was an English explorer who made the second successful circumnavigation of the world in 1577-1580. He also fought the Spanish Armada in 1588.

Sir Walter Raleigh (1552 – 1618 ) Raleigh was an English explorer who made several journeys to the Americas and also led expeditions in search of the legendary ‘El Dorado’.

Captain James Cook (1728 – 1779) Cook was a British explorer who made groundbreaking voyages to the Pacific Ocean. He made the first European contact with Eastern coast of Australia and he chartered several islands in the Pacific.

Kings and sponsors of the age of discovery

John II (1455–1495), King of Portugal and of the Algarves. Under John II, Portugal became established as a major European power. In particular, he promoted a policy of expansion and colonialism sponsoring expeditions to Africa to try and open routes up to India. He also transformed the economy and state.

Manuel I (1469 – 1521) King of Portugal. During Manuel’s time, Portugal remained the leading pioneer in promoting global exploration. He sponsored the expedition of Cabal to South America and Brazil.

Queen Isabella I of Castile ( 1451 – 1504) Isabella ruled Castile with her husband King Ferdinand of Aragon, effectively united the Spanish provinces. She allowed and financed the journey of Christopher Columbus and also set up the Spanish Inquisition.

Queen Elizabeth I (1533 – 1603) Queen from (1558 to 1603). Her ascension to the throne led to British explorers gaining prominence in the age of discovery. She permitted explorers who wished to claim land for the British crown. Her greatest explorers were Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh.

Citation: Pettinger, Tejvan. “Age of Discovery – Explorers” Oxford, UK. Published 10 July 2019.

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