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The Portuguese Role in Exploring and Mapping the New World

Portugal, the western-most European country, was one of the primary players in the European Age of Discovery and Exploration. Under the leadership of Prince Henry the Navigator, Portugal took the principal role during most of the fifteenth century in searching for a route to Asia by sailing south around Africa. In the process, the Portuguese accumulated a wealth of knowledge about navigation and the geography of the Atlantic Ocean.

In the last decade of the fifteenth century, Christopher Columbus set out on a westerly course across the Atlantic Ocean searching for an alternative route to the Indies but inadvertently "discovered" a new continent. Although neither Portuguese-born nor sponsored, Columbus was Portuguese trained. He went to Lisbon in 1476 and remained there for several years, seeking the support of the Portuguese king and gathering nautical and geographic intelligence from the returning sailors. He married a Portuguese woman; obtained navigation charts and related information from his father-in-law, Bartholomew Perestrelo, who was the governor of the island of Porto Santo in Madeira; and was employed by João II as a navigator.

After Columbus voyages to the New World, the Portuguese, Spanish, French, Dutch, and English began the active exploration and exploitation of the newly discovered land in the Americas. Portuguese sailors continued to make important discoveries in this new arena as well.

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Portugal during the Age of Discoveries

The Azore Islands

The First Circumnavigation of the Globe

Portuguese Exploration along the Northeast Coast of North America

Cabrilho's Discovery of California

Portuguese View of the World at the Beginning of the Seventeenth Century