Portuguese discoveries

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The Cantino planisphere, made by an anonymous cartographer in 1502, shows the world as it was understood by Europeans after their great explorations at the end of the fifteenth century.

Portuguese discoveries (Portuguese: Descobrimentos portugueses) are the numerous territories and maritime routes recorded by the Portuguese as a result of their intensive maritime exploration during the 15th and 16th centuries. Portuguese sailors were at the vanguard of European exploration, chronicling and mapping the coasts of Africa and Asia, then known as the East Indies, and Canada and Brazil (the West Indies), in what came to be known as the Age of Discovery.

Methodical expeditions started in 1419 along West Africa's coast under the sponsorship of prince Henry the Navigator, with Bartolomeu Dias reaching the Cape of Good Hope and entering the Indian Ocean in 1488. Ten years later, in 1498, Vasco da Gama led the first fleet around Africa to India, arriving in Calicut and starting a maritime route from Portugal to India. Portuguese explorations then proceeded to southeast Asia, where they reached Japan in 1542, forty-four years after their first arrival in India.[1] In 1500, the Portuguese nobleman Pedro Álvares Cabral became the first European to discover Brazil.[2]



Vasco da Gama lands in Calicut on May 20th 1498.

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

In 1297, King Dinis 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 Dinis 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]

Atlantic exploration (1418–1488)[edit]

Prince Henry the Navigator, generally credited as the driving force behind Portuguese maritime exploration.

In 1415, the Portuguese occupied the north-african city of Ceuta, aiming to gain a foothold on Morocco, to control navigation through the Strait of Gibraltar, expand Christianity with the backing of the Pope, and by pressure of the nobility for epic and profitable acts of war, now that Portugal had finished the Reconquista on the Iberian Peninsula. Among the participants of the action was the young Prince Henry the Navigator. Appointed governor of the Order of Christ in 1420, while personally holding profitable monopolies on resources in Algarve, he took the lead role in encouraging Portuguese maritime exploration until his death in 1460.[7] 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.

In 1418, two of Henry's captains, João Gonçalves Zarco and Tristão Vaz Teixeira were driven by a storm to Porto Santo an uninhabited island off the coast of Africa which may have been known to Europeans since the 14th century. In 1419 Zarco and Teixeira made a landfall on Madeira. They returned with Bartolomeu Perestrelo and Portuguese settlement of the islands began. There, wheat and later sugarcane were cultivated, as in Algarve, by the Genoese, becoming profitable activities. This helped both them and Prince Henry become wealthier.

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.[8] 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.[9]

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 at the time, as Europeans did not know what lay beyond on the African coast, and did not know whether it was possible to return once it was passed. Henry wished to know how far the Muslim territories in Africa extended, and whether it was possible to reach the source of the lucrative transaharan caravan gold trade and perhaps to join forces with the long-lost Christian kingdom of Prester John that was rumoured to exist somewhere to the east.[10][11]

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.

The caravel ship introduced in the mid-15th century which aided Portuguese exploration

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 backed by the Papal bulls Dum Diversas (1452) and Romanus Pontifex (1455), granting Portugal a trade monopoly for the newly discovered countries.[14]

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. In the same year, the first overseas feitoria (trading post) was established under Henry's direction, on the island of Arguin off the coast of Mauritania. It was created 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]

An illustration of the padrão Diogo Cão erected at Cape St. Mary, Angola.

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.

Iberian mare clausum claims during the Age of Discovery.

In 1488, Bartolomeu Dias rounded the Cape of Good Hope near 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]

The 1494 Tordesilhas Treaty meridian dividing the world between Portugal and Castille/Spain (purple) and the Moluccas antimeridian (green), set at the Treaty of Zaragoza, 1529

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]

The route followed in Vasco da Gama's first voyage (1497–1499)

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 Southeast 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]

Indian Ocean explorations (1497–1542)[edit]

The carrack Santa Catarina do Monte Sinai and other Portuguese Navy ships in the 16th century.

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 (via the Indian Ocean coast in Somalia, 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 in Southeast Africa, 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]

Anonymous map c.1550 of Eastern Africa, Asia and Western Oceania

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.

Portuguese ruler of Pegu riding an Elephant.

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 Catholic Christianity to Asia with mixed success.

Cartographic history[edit]

Map of Portuguese exploration and discoveries (1415–1543)[edit]

Portuguese exploration and discoveries: first arrival places and dates; main Portuguese spice trade routes in the Indian Ocean (blue); territories claimed during the reign of King John III (c. 1536) (green); Main Factories (orange)

Portuguese nautical science[edit]

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.


Portuguese "Armada" fleet in 1507, Lisuarte de Abreu

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]

Ephemeris by Abraham Zacuto in Almanach Perpetuum, 1496

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]

Map showing 5 circles. The first is between western Australia and eastern Africa. The second is between eastern Australia and western South America. The third is between Japan and western North America. Of the two in the Atlantic, one is in hemisphere.
North Atlantic
North Atlantic
North Atlantic
South Atlantic
Map showing 5 circles. The first is between western Australia and eastern Africa. The second is between eastern Australia and western South America. The third is between Japan and western North America. Of the two in the Atlantic, one is in hemisphere.
World map of the five major ocean gyres

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.


Pre-mercator navigation chart of the Coast of Africa (1571), by Fernão Vaz Dourado (Torre do Tombo, Lisbon)

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 ~ 1520 – ~ 1580), giving him a reputation as one of the best cartographers of the time. Many of his charts are large scale.


  • 1525—Diogo da Rocha and his pilot Gomes de Sequeira reached Celebes and were blown off course and driven three hundred leagues in a direction constantly towards the east and to Ilhas de Gomes de Sequeira - most probably the Palau Island or Yap, (Caroline Islands) according to the geographical notes, distance traveled and physical description of the natives in Décadas da Ásia of João de Barros, or, according to the alleged existence of gold mentioned by the natives, other descriptions of the people and if they were to south and east in one or two voyages made by Gomes de Sequeira (According to the different interpretations of the Chronicles of Barros, Castanheda and Galvão), raises also the hypothesis of Cape York Peninsula in Australia, maybe one of the Prince of Wales Islands. In Gastald's map a group of islands named Insul de gomes des queria lie in about 8 degrees of south latitude and in the longitude of the Northern Territory of Australia. In the same map the Apem insul seems to correspond with either Adi Island or the Aru Islands. The Ins des hobres blancos (Islands of the White Men) correspond, as far as locality is concerned, to the Arru (Aru) Islands. It would appear then that Gomes de Sequeira's Islands, which are the south-easternmost of those represented, must correspond with the Timor Laut group. In the same year, according to the voyages to the Banda Islands mentioned on Decadas and according to contemporaneous cartographers, Martim Afonso de Melo (Jusarte) and Garcia Henriques explored the Tanimbar Islands (the archipelago labelled "aqui invernou Martim Afonso de Melo" and "Aqui in bernon Martin Afonso de melo" [Here wintered Martin Afonso de Melo]) and probably the Aru Islands (the two archipelagos and the navigator mentioned in the maps of Lázaro Luís, 1563, Bartolomeu Velho, c. 1560, Sebastião Lopes, c. 1565 and also in the 1594 map of the East Indies entitled Insulce Molucoe by the Dutch cartographer Petrus Plancius and in the map of Nova Guinea of 1600).
  • 1526—Discovery of New Guinea by Jorge de Meneses
  • 1528—Diogo Rodrigues explores the Mascarene islands, that he names after his countryman Pedro Mascarenhas, he explored and named the islands of Réunion, Mauritius, and Rodrigues[48]
  • 1529—Treaty of Saragossa divides the eastern hemisphere between Spain and Portugal, stipulating that the dividing line should lie 297.5 leagues or 17° east of the Moluccas.
  • 1542-43—Fernão Mendes Pinto, António Mota and Francisco Zeimoto reached Japan.
  • 1542—The coast of California explored by João Rodrigues Cabrilho on behalf of Spain.
  • 1557—Macau given to Portugal by the Emperor of China as a reward for services rendered against the pirates who infested the South China Sea.
  • 1559—The Nau São Paulo commanded by Rui Melo da Câmara (was part of the Portuguese India Armada commanded by Jorge de Sousa) discovered Île Saint-Paul in the South Indian Ocean. The island was mapped, described and painted by members of the crew, among them the Father Manuel Álvares and the chemist Henrique Dias (Álvares and Dias calculated the correct latitude 38° South at the time of discovery). The Nau São Paulo, who also carried women and had sailed from Europe and had scale in Brazil, would be the protagonist of a dramatic and moving story of survival after sinking south of Sumatra.
  • 1560—Gonçalo da Silveira, Jesuit missionary, travelled up the Zambezi River, on his expedition to the capital of the Monomotapa which appears to have been the N'Pande kraal, close by the M'Zingesi River, a southern tributary of the Zambezi. He arrived there on 26 December 1560.
  • 1586—António da Madalena, a Capuchin friar, was one of the first Western visitors to Angkor (now Cambodia).
  • 1602–1606—Bento de Góis, a Jesuit missionary, was the first known European to travel overland from India to China, via Afghanistan and the Pamirs.
  • 1606—Pedro Fernandes de Queirós discovered Henderson Island, the Ducie Island and the islands later called the New Hebrides and now the nation of Vanuatu. Queirós landed on a large island which he took to be part of the southern continent, and named it La Austrialia del Espiritu Santo (The Australian Land of the Holy Spirit), for King Philip III(II), or Australia of the Holy Spirit (Australia do Espírito Santo) of the southern continent.
  • 1626—Estêvão Cacella, Jesuit missionary, traveled through the Himalayas and was the first European to enter Bhutan.[49]
  • 1636-1638—Pedro Teixeira went from Belém do Pará up the Amazon River and reached Quito, Ecuador, in an expedition of over a thousand men. So Teixeira's expedition became the first simultaneously to travel up and down the Amazon River.
  • 1648-1651—António Raposo Tavares with 200 whites from São Paulo and over a thousand Indians travelled for over 10,000 kilometres (6,200 mi), in the biggest expedition ever made in the Americas, following the courses of the rivers, most notably the Paraguay River, to the Andes, the Grande River, the Mamoré River, the Madeira River and the Amazon River. Only Tavares, 59 whites and some Indians reached Belém at the mouth of the Amazon River.


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