Portugal, Europe's westernmost country, was a key actor throughout the European Age of Discovery and Exploration. During the majority of the fifteenth century, Portugal took the lead in hunting for a way to Asia by sailing south around Africa, led by Prince Henry the Navigator. In 1415, he established the first European office to study world maps: the "Navigation School" in Lisbon.
In addition to naming regions and islands across the globe, Prince Henry also founded many schools to teach cartography and other scientific disciplines. These included the University of Coimbra, which was the first in Europe; the University of Salamanca, which for a time was the most important academic institution in Spain; and the University of León, which became one of the leading universities in Europe.
These institutions not only helped spread knowledge about the world but also encouraged students to explore beyond what was already known. For example, two professors at the University of Coimbra named Christopher Columbus after two famous scholars who had previously traveled to India. One of them was Ptolemy, a Greek geographer from 150 A.D. Who is credited with writing the first detailed map of the then-known world. The other was Marinus, a Roman scholar who lived in Antwerp who had published a book on navigation techniques in 1476.
Columbus took these ideas and used them to justify his decision to sail west to Asia.
During this time, the Portuguese learned a great deal about navigation and the topography of the Atlantic Ocean. They also brought back news from various parts of Asia with which to fill their books of knowledge.
In 1415, the first permanent European settlement was established on an island off the coast of South Africa. The site was chosen by John II who wanted to establish a trading post with the people there called "Basterians". However, most came to be known as "Portuguese" because that is where they were founded by Portuguese sailors. This early settlement only lasted three years before it was destroyed but it showed that Europe was willing to go to extreme lengths to get gold and spices.
In 1498, Vasco da Gama reached India by sailing west across the Indian Ocean following a route earlier discovered by the Arabs. With this discovery, the path to Asia was open and soon other Europeans followed in his footsteps. By 1550, almost all the countries of Europe had participated in one or more voyages to Asia showing how important it was for trade between them.
Also in 1550, Antonio de Morgado found a new route to Asia by crossing the continent from south to north.
Portugal as a country The Age of Exploration began in the country of Portugal, led by Henry the Navigator. Henry dispatched ships to chart and explore Africa's west coast. He became the first person to publish a map showing how far the ocean went.
His son Ferdinand also become a cartographer who helped create some of the first atlases. Today's maps often copy ideas from these early atlases.
Portugal was one of the first countries to explore beyond its borders. In 1415 John II declared "all the world is free for us to explore," and soon after he sent two small ships out to find a route to India by way of Africa.
One ship returned with news of a great continent full of people, many languages, and different customs but without any trace of gold or silver. The other ship never returned home. It is believed it ran into trouble near present-day Senegal. There are no known survivors of this expedition.
However, the exploration didn't stop there. Other Portuguese sailors continued to sail to African ports where they bought goods that were then shipped back to Europe. They also captured slaves who were taken to Portugal and Brazil.
By 1550 almost all the regions of the world had been discovered except for Antarctica.
With the missions led by Prince Henry the Navigator, Portugal is said to have initiated the Age of Exploration before the other three major nations. However, many scholars believe that England and Spain also played a role in these efforts.
In addition to sponsoring mission trips, King Henry VIII encouraged exploration by granting licenses to trade with the colonies on other continents. He wanted to find out about the world beyond his own borders so he could protect his kingdom from invasion by using his new knowledge.
These events have made Portugal/Portugal's monarchy/Henry VIII an ancestor of today's explorers.
The initial attempts by Europeans to establish a maritime passage to Asia were made along Africa's Atlantic, or west, coast. In the early 1400s, Prince Henry of Portugal, sometimes known as Henry the Navigator, dispatched ships south down the African coast in search of a route around the continent. His goal was to find a way to trade with China. The trips proved successful and led to the development of the Portuguese navy and trade routes across Africa and into South America.
In 1526–27, Spanish explorer Juan de la Cosa sailed along the east coast of Africa looking for a sea route to India. When he returned home he published a book describing his experiences which prompted another Spanish explorer, Ferdinand Magellan, to attempt to sail across the Indian Ocean using the newly discovered Cape Horn tip of South America as a guide. This effort failed but it started Europe's involvement in the exploration and colonization of the world's oceans.
In 1768, England's James Cook completed the first complete map of both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. A decade later France's Jean-Baptiste Chappe d'Auteriveau made the first accurate survey of Australia's coastline. In 1820, Britain's Edward Belcher reached the east coast of Australia while in 1838 Dutch explorers landed on the west coast. These are only some of many famous explorations from both sides of the ocean.
The Age of Exploration began in the country of Portugal, led by Henry the Navigator. They explored much of western Africa for the Portuguese and travelled further south than any previous European mission.
Portugal was followed by Spain and Italy, which both sent out ships that made discoveries in Australia and Asia.
France also played a role by financing and building ships for use by Spain and Portugal. However, since France belonged to the Catholic Church, its missions did not include religious leaders on board their vessels. Instead, they were used for trade purposes only.
England also participated in the Age of Discovery by sending ships to South America and India. But England had outlawed exploratory trips so none were made by British citizens.
Instead, all of these journeys were conducted by foreigners who were not inhibited by this policy. Thus, the Portuguese discovered Africa, the Spanish discovered Australia, and the Italians discovered Asia.
However, it must be noted that some of these journeys may have been known about prior to their being undertaken. For example, the Portuguese mission to Africa was likely known about by sailors from Lisbon when they returned home with stories of their adventures. This means that England, France, and Spain might be credited with more discoveries than actually been made.