Chronology of the Portuguese Discoveries

The Portuguese discoveries took place as a result of the Portuguese maritime expansion that marked the history of Portugal and the history of the world.

Throughout the 15th century, the Portuguese transformed and perfected all known shipbuilding and navigation techniques.

The Portuguese maritime expansion was an unprecedented development.

The impression conveyed is that if it took eighty years to reach the Cape of Good Hope, the next thirty years took the Portuguese to Greenland, in 1498 to the Indies, in 1500 to Brazil, in 1511 to China and around 1548 to Japan.

Between 1415 and 1492, Portugal, as well as being the pioneering nation, had exclusive navigation of the Atlantic Ocean. During this period, the Portuguese travelled around West Africa.

The outline of Africa placed a number of spice producers in the hands of the Portuguese: gold, pepper, nutmeg, ivory and slaves.

CRONOLOGY OF THE PORTUGUESE DISCOVERIES

  1. AUGUST 1415 – CONQUEST OF CEUTA
  2. JULY 1418 – DISCOVERY OF THE ARCHIPELAGUE OF MADEIRA
  3. JANUARY 1427 – LANDING IN THE ARCHIPELAGUS OF THE AZORES
  4. MAY 1434 – GIL EANES DOUBLES THE BOJADOR CABIN
  5. October 1437 – PORTUGUESE DEFEAT IN TANGER
  6. JANUARY 1444 – DISCOVERY AND CONQUEST OF GUINEA
  7. JANUARY 1450 – BARTOLOMEU DIAS IS BORN (1450?-1500)
  8. JANUARY 1456 – DISCOVERY OF CAPE VERDE
  9. OCTOBER 1458 – CONQUEST OF ALCÁCER CEGUER
  10. JANUARY 1467 – PEDRO ÁLVARES CABRAL BORN (1467?-1520?)
  11. JANUARY 1468 – VASCO DA GAMA BORN (1468-1525)
  12. AUGUST 1471 – CONQUEST OF ARZILA AND TÂNGER
  13. October 1492 – CRISTOVÃO COLOMBO ARRIVES IN AMERICA
  14. JUNE 1494 – SIGNING OF THE TREATY OF TORDESILLAS
  15. MAY 1498 – DISCOVERY OF THE MARITIME WAY TO INDIA
  16. APRIL 1500 – DISCOVERY OF BRAZIL
  17. SEPTEMBER 1507 – CONQUEST OF ORMUZ
  18. NOVEMBER 1510 – CONQUEST OF GOA
  19. AUGUST 1511 – CONQUEST OF MALACA
  20. MAY 1513 – PORTUGUESE ARRIVE IN CHINA
  21. AUGUST 1515 – ESTABLISHMENT OF THE PORTUGUESE IN TIMOR
  22. SEPTEMBER 1519 – FERNÃO DE MAGALHÃES (1480 – 1521) BEGINS TOUR OF THE WORLD
Mapa da Africa de 1626
Historical Map of Africa from 1626 – The map shows the cities of Tangier, Ceuta, Alger, Tunis, Alexandria, Cairo (Alca), Mozambique and the Canary Islands.

1. CONQUEST OF CEUTA – AUGUST 1415

Around 20,000 men, embarked in Lisbon, conquered the African city of Ceuta on 22 August 1415.

Esta publicação inclui vistas panorâmicas de cinco cidades portuárias em Marroco - 1575
Esta publicação inclui vistas panorâmicas de cinco cidades portuárias em Marroco – 1575.

It was an important commercial city in the Muslim world of the Mediterranean. Warlike, economic and political causes are cited as reasons for this first step in what would become the Portuguese expansion into Africa.

2. DISCOVERY OF THE ARCHIPELAGUE OF MADEIRA – JULY 1418

The date on which Gonçalo Zarco and Tristão Vaz Teixeira landed on the island of Porto Santo is uncertain.

Mapa da Ilha da Madeira de 1692
Historical Map of Madeira Island from 1692

It is known that they left there in July 1418 to land on the island of Madeira, a land of which there had already been news before the arrival of the Portuguese.

3. LANDING IN THE ARCHIPELAGUS OF THE AZORES

At an uncertain date, Diogo de Silves went to the islands on the orders of Infante D. Pedro. In the following years, new expeditions were made to other islands in the archipelago.

As in the case of the islands of Madeira and Porto Santo, the Azores archipelago was not completely unknown, as there are reports of its existence prior to the arrival of the Portuguese.

4. GIL EANES DOUBLES THE BOJADOR CAPE – MAY 1434

It is known that Gil Eanes set off in May to try and double Cape Bojador, also known as Cape Fear.

As he approached his destination, he decided to put himself off the coast, thus managing to pass it. Many popular legends claimed that the world ended there.

The passage of Cape Bojador

Cape Bojador, on the coast of Western Sahara, was known as the Cape of Fear. Sharp-edged reefs dominate the region, making navigation very risky.

25 kilometres off the coast of the cape, in the open sea, the depth is only 2 metres.

The height of the waves, the frequency of storms, the violence of the winds, the lack of knowledge of ocean currents and the permanent fog made navigation extremely dangerous.

Those who passed through never returned. Legends told of more than 12,000 failed attempts.

Some believed that the winds from then on blew southwards, preventing a return to Portugal, heading north.

Others thought that this was the end of the world and that the fog was the result of the evaporation of the waters that boiled when they fell into hell below. Legends told of sea monsters and gigantic, ferocious whirlpools.

The sea boiled in the heat and only certain bizarre creatures could survive in the intense heat and aridity. There were said to be great treasures guarded by ferocious dragons and giants that entered the sea and destroyed the ships.

Fanciful tales of crews giving up and returning fuelled the legends. Cape Bojador was considered insurmountable, that’s where the known world ended.

5. PORTUGUESE DEFEAT IN TANGER – OCTOBER 1437

The Portuguese attacked the square of Tangier outnumbered and disorganised.

Mapa do Mediterrâneo Ocidental 1705
Historical Map of the Western Mediterranean 1705

The troops are surrounded and surrender. After negotiations, the Portuguese forces are authorised to leave, but in exchange the Muslims demand the surrender of Ceuta. As a guarantee of the agreement, Prince Ferdinand is held hostage.

The Infante who drew up the agreement backs down after his release. Prince Ferdinand dies in captivity in Fez in 1443.

6. DISCOVERY AND CONQUEST OF GUINEA – JANUARY 1444

Guinea was a generic name given to black Africa that stretched south of Cape Bojador.

After the Portuguese defeat in Tangier, there was a commitment to overseas expansion in order to reach raw materials more directly.

7. BARTOLOMEU DIAS BORN (1450?-1500) – JANUARY 1450

He was the first European to round the Cape of Storms, later named the Cape of Good Hope, in 1488.

The voyage of Bartolomeu Dias transformed the name of the reckless Cape into Good Hope for opening the passage to the sea route to India.

Bartolomeu Dias was considered a skilful and experienced navigator. He was entrusted with various missions. He died when his caravel sank off the Cape of Good Hope in 1500.

8. DISCOVERY OF CAPE VERDE – JANUARY 1456

The date of the discovery of the archipelago is disputed, as is the name of the navigator who first arrived there.

Diogo Gomes, Alvise Cadamosto or António da Noli have been named as possible discoverers, all in the service of Prince Henry the Navigator.

9. CONQUEST OF ALCÁCER CEGUER – OCTOBER 1458

The conquest was led by King Afonso V. The square was conquered, but its maintenance was always very difficult. It lost importance and was abandoned in 1550 when Portugal had already conquered Tangier and Arzila.

The town of Alcácer-Ceguer, or Al Qasr al saghir, which means ‘little castle’, is located on the coast of northern Morocco, between Ceuta and Tangier.

Por mais de um século e meio, Portugal controlou importantes pontos da costa marroquina. No mapa, domínios portugueses no Marocco de 1415 (conquista de Ceuta) a 1578 (derrota de Alcácer-Quibir).
For more than a century and a half, Portugal controlled important points on the Moroccan coast. On the map, Portuguese domains in Morocco from 1415 (conquest of Ceuta) to 1578 (defeat of Alcácer-Quibir).

Although it lacked the importance of these two cities, it was a position of some importance in the 15th century, as a point of support for shipping and a stronghold for corsairs from the Strait of Gibraltar.

On 24 October 1458, the King of Portugal entered the town after the inhabitants surrendered to the Portuguese military forces that had landed there three days earlier and whose artillery managed to breach the wall.

In fact, Alcácer-Ceguer didn’t have enough forces or fortifications to resist the onslaught of the Portuguese armada, which was made up of two hundred sailing ships, artillery and several thousand soldiers.

The expedition was led by the monarch himself and included some of the most important figures of the Portuguese nobility, including Prince Henry the Navigator, who played an important role in its preparation.

What were the reasons that led the king to prepare the expedition?

The conquest of Alcácer-Ceguer was a kind of ‘return to Morocco’ after the failure of Tangier two decades earlier. It was, of course, only possible after the accession to the throne of King Afonso V, who had been keen to resume his conquest projects in North Africa from an early stage. Several circumstances favoured the return of the Portuguese to Morocco at this time.

Firstly, Ceuta was the only Portuguese square in North Africa, which was proving to be of limited use and effectiveness due to its isolation. Secondly, the Pope had recently issued a crusading bull, which awarded possession of Alcácer-Ceguer to Portugal.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the taking of Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks in 1453 caused a stir throughout Christian Europe and led the Pope to preach a new crusade, to which King Afonso V seems to have been the only monarch to respond in the affirmative.

As this never took place, the king decided to channel the resources into a military offensive in Morocco.

What was the importance of this conquest?

The capture of Alcácer-Ceguer definitively signalled the resumption of Portuguese interest in Morocco. After the conquest of the small town, King Afonso V, inspired by dreams of crusading and feats of arms, went on to conquer Tangier and Arzila.

His son, João II, centred his interest on the southern regions, where local produce was of interest to Portuguese trade along the African coast. D. Manuel finally extended the protectorate regime over various coastal regions of Morocco and integrated the Portuguese presence into his global crusade project.

However, the maintenance of Portuguese plazas in North Africa was costly and difficult, all the more so as they became less and less useful.

Therefore, after ascending the throne in 1521, King João III began to consider the possibility of evacuating some of the squares, which actually happened over the following decades.

Alcácer-Ceguer was abandoned in 1549, leaving only Ceuta, Tangier and Mazagan as the last landmarks of Portuguese expansion in Morocco.

10. PEDRO ÁLVARES CABRAL (1467?-1520?) BORN – JANUARY 1467

He commanded the squadron of 13 ships that discovered Brazil in 1500.

It was the second mission to India, but there was a deviation in the route taking the fleet to the Brazilian coast.

Very little is known about his life and it wasn’t until the 20th century that his grave was discovered. Brazil would only assume importance in the Portuguese empire long after his death.

11. VASCO DA GAMA (1468-1525) was born – JANUARY 1468

He commanded the fleet that discovered the sea route to India. The squadron of three ships took around 10 months to sail from Lisbon to Calicut.

He was the son of noblemen and a member of the Order of St James. He was appointed Governor of India and died in Coxim.

During the 15th century, Portugal embarked on its discoveries. It first conquered Ceuta and other African centres, and then set about discovering the coast as far as the Cape of Good Hope and India.

Vasco da Gama was in charge of this last voyage, leading a squadron of four ships that took around 10 months to reach Calicut.

The conquest of Ceuta was the first step towards the discoveries that the Portuguese made in the 15th and 16th centuries.

The possibility of reaching India became real in the second half of the 15th century after Portuguese navigators travelled down the Atlantic coast of Africa and Bartolomeu Dias crossed the Cape of Good Hope.

In 1488, Bartolomeu Dias was the first European to round the Cape of Storms.In the hope of opening up new paths for Portuguese discoveries, the cape was renamed the Cape of Good Hope. By the end of the 15th century, the Portuguese navy had explored most of the African coast facing the Atlantic.In order to proceed eastwards, it was essential to understand where this coastline ended and whether or not it was possible to connect to the Indian Ocean by sea. Confirming this possibility could open the door to a new trade route between Europe and Asia.Bartolomeu Dias, supposedly sent to meet Prestes João, succeeded in this mission, rounding the Cape of Storms, later named the Cape of Good Hope in 1488.It was from this mission by Bartolomeu Dias that the voyage to discover the sea route to India and other places in the East could be prepared.

Vasco da Gama, born in Sines and son of Estevão da Gama, was the man chosen to command the fleet that sailed to discover the maritime route to India.

In 1497, the fleet commanded by Vasco da Gama set sail from Lisbon with the aim of discovering the sea route to India.There were around 150 men on three ships – the S. Gabriel, the S. Rafael and the Bérrio – and a small harbour vessel with supplies.

Departure was scheduled for 8 July 1497, with the fleet arriving in Calecutta in May 1498.The commander of this fleet, Vasco da Gama, was a nobleman born in Sines.

The passage of the Cape of Good Hope the previous year opened the door for the Portuguese to penetrate the Indian Ocean.

The voyage opened up a new trade route between Europe and Asia.

12. CONQUEST OF ARZILA AND TÂNGER – AUGUST 1471

Around 400 ships took part in the assault on the square of Arzila in North Africa.

Despite many difficulties, the attack was decisive and the city was sacked. Several defenders and residents of Muslim origin were killed after hiding in the mosque and castle. Frightened, the defenders of the neighbouring square of Tangier abandon their defences and King Afonso V sends a force that succeeds. Afonso V sent a force that managed to seize the fortress.

Today there are still some traces of the Portuguese occupation of Arzila, a Moroccan city on the Atlantic coast, taken by the troops of King Afonso V in 1471. This video reconstructs the Portuguese invasion and the fighting that took place there.

The conquest of Arzila was part of Portugal’s overseas expansion policy and took place in the second half of the 15th century, after the disaster of the operation in Tangier, where many Portuguese – including Prince Fernando – were taken captive.

It was understood that taking plazas in Morocco would be an indispensable lever for maritime progression and, in the case of Arzila, the task was made easier because the Muslims were fighting each other. Even so, as this video tells us, the fighting was difficult and not without several casualties.

Located on the northern coast of Morocco, the city was a Portuguese possession between 1471 and 1550 and later between 1577 and 1589.

The Portuguese crown sent several Spanish Jewish families to Arzila in order to colonise it, establishing a twenty-year peace agreement with the nearby Moors. Although scarce, there are still some vestiges of the Portuguese presence today, including the fortress’s keep, the restoration of which was supported by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.

13. CRISTOVÃO COLOMBO ARRIVES IN AMERICA – OCTOBER 1492

Departing from the city of Palos in the south of Spain, the ships commanded by Columbus sighted land after several months and landed on what is now the island of San Salvador in the Bahamas.

Mapa do Hemisfério Ocidental - América 1552. Um dos mais importantes mapas do Novo Mundo do século XVI.
Historical Map of the Western Hemisphere – America 1552. One of the most important 16th century maps of the New World.

He continued on to Cuba. He returned to Spain convinced that he had reached Japan.

Mapa do Hemisfério Ocidental - America 1587
Mapa Histórico do Hemisfério Ocidental – America 1587

14. SIGNING OF THE TREATY OF TORDESILHAS – JUNE 1494

Signed in Spain in the city of Tordesillas, this treaty divided the ‘discovered and undiscovered’ world into two parts, with Portugal and Spain having the rights to exploit each of them.

The Treaty of Tordesillas was signed in the Spanish city of the same name and divided the ‘discovered and undiscovered’ world into two parts, with the exploitation rights of each part going to Portugal and Spain.

The Treaty of Tordesillas was signed on 7 June 1494 in the Spanish city of the same name, about a year and a half after Christopher Columbus’ voyage to America.

Esta pintura do século 15 ilustra como o Tratado de Tordesilhas foi assinado
This 15th century painting illustrates how the Treaty of Tordesillas was signed.

The coordinates provided by Columbus showed, according to Portuguese geographers, that the land discovered belonged to Portugal.

The Spanish crown asked for papal intervention to resolve the matter.

Pope Alexander VI established, by means of a bull, a meridional line that divided the planet into two parts, with the exploitation rights of each part being handed over to the Iberian countries, but King João II did not agree.

New negotiations began between the Catholic kings and the Portuguese monarch, resulting in the Treaty of Tordesillas.

15. DISCOVERY OF THE MARITIME WAY TO INDIA – MAY 1498

Vasco da Gama’s fleet took 10 months to get from Lisbon to Calicut in 1498. The door was open for trade with the Orient, which passed into Portuguese hands after centuries of control by the Muslim world.

Mapa da Ásia de 1615
Historical Map of Asia from 1615

In 1497, the fleet commanded by Vasco da Gama set sail from Lisbon with the aim of discovering the sea route to India.

There were around 150 men on three ships – the S. Gabriel, the S. Rafael and the Bérrio – and a small harbour vessel with supplies.

Departure was scheduled for 8 July 1497, with the squadron arriving in Calecut in May 1498.

The commander of this fleet, Vasco da Gama, was a nobleman born in Sines.

The passage of the Cape of Good Hope the previous year opened the door for the Portuguese to penetrate the Indian Ocean.

16. DISCOVERY OF BRAZIL – APRIL 1500

The ships, commanded by Pedro Álvares Cabral, were heading for India, but made a diversion that took them to the shores of Brazil in April 1500. The discovery was announced as accidental, but historians question this.

Mapa do Hemisfério Ocidental de 1623
Historical Map of the Western Hemisphere from 1623 – Jodocus Hondius’ map of the Americas is one of the most elaborate examples of fine Dutch cartography. The decorations, including sea monsters, indigenous birds, native canoes and sailing ships, were taken from De Bry’s Grand Voyages. Particularly noteworthy is the scene of the natives preparing an intoxicating drink made from manioc roots, derived from Hans Staden’s harrowing adventure in Brazil. The continents are presented in a stereographic projection, which became increasingly popular at the beginning of the 17th century. It shows a more accurate western coastline of South America and narrows the width of Mexico. However, North America is still too wide and Virginia has an exaggerated coastline. Newfoundland is based on Plancius. The coastlines are entirely engraved with place names.

The fleet commanded by Pedro Álvares Cabral was heading for India, but on the way it discovered Brazil. This discovery is sometimes referred to as accidental, but many historians disagree.

The second fleet bound for India, after Vasco da Gama’s return, consisted of 13 ships and over 1000 men.

Before rounding the Cape of Good Hope, the commander of the fleet, Pedro Álvares Cabral, made a diversion in the Atlantic that took him to the coast of Brazil, where he landed on 22 April 1500.

The discovery was announced as accidental, but many historians believe that the diversions was intentional and that the Portuguese already knew the location of the new continent.

17. CONQUEST OF THE ISLAND OF ORMUZ – SEPTEMBER 1507

The city of Hormuz controlled important trade routes.

Vista aérea da Ilha de Ormuz de 1750
Aerial view of the Island of Hormuz from 1750 – This is a Dutch version of Bellin’s aerial view of the Island of Hormuz, situated in the strategically important Strait of Hormuz. The map shows the fortress, the church of St Lucia and the King’s Palace on the island. The fortress of Komrun on the mainland and another small fort on the island of Kishm. The sea is full of ships and fishing boats.

Portugal first established diplomatic relations with the local king, but later Afonso de Albuquerque took the city.

A Portuguese fortress will be built on the island of Hormuz, which will allow Portugal to control the Persian Gulf, and with it an important part of the trade between the East and Europe.

18. CONQUEST OF GOA – NOVEMBER 1510

Even before the arrival of the Portuguese, Goa was an important city on the Indian trade routes. Conquered by Afonso de Albuquerque in November 1510, it became the capital of the Portuguese empire in the East.

Mapa da Ásia de 1556
Historical Map of Asia from 1556

Goa was an important Indian city on the main trade routes to the East. It was conquered by Afonso de Albuquerque and became the capital of the Portuguese Empire of India.

The city was only taken by Afonso de Albuquerque after two attempts and strong resistance from the Muslim forces that controlled the territory.

After the conquest, in November 1510, the city grew and gained importance in the context of the Portuguese empire, becoming its main port in the East.

By the end of the 16th century, the city had around 250,000 inhabitants, a very high number, even by the European standards of the time.

Lost to the Indian Union in 1961, Goa still has an important heritage linking the city to Portugal.

Mapa Histórico de Goa na Índia de 1646
Historical Map of Goa in India from 1646

19. CONQUEST OF MALACA – AUGUST 1511

The conquest of Malacca in August 1511 was also led by Afonso de Albuquerque, who commanded around 1,000 men and a dozen ships.

After the conquests of Hormuz and Goa, the aim of this operation was to consolidate Portuguese power in the East by creating a network of ports and squares to control access to the main trade routes.

20. PORTUGUESE ARRIVE IN CHINA – MAY 1513

The Portuguese Jorge Álvares is the first European navigator to reach China.

Mapa da Ásia de 1573
Historical Map of Asia from 1573

His ship docked on an island, now known as Hong Kong, during the month of May 1513.

There is no certainty as to when this happened. The Portuguese presence grew stronger in the following years, culminating in the establishment of a commercial port in Macau in 1557.

21. ESTABLISHMENT OF THE PORTUGUESE IN TIMOR – AUGUST 1515

The first Portuguese fortress in Timor was built in 1515, but there was already information about this territory before that date.

The Portuguese presence on the island lasted until 1975, when the country was occupied by Indonesia. The territory only became independent in 1999.

22. FERNÃO DE MAGALHÃES (1480 – 1521) BEGINS TOUR OF THE WORLD – SEPTEMBER 1519

Ferdinand Magellan was a Portuguese captain who offered his services to Spain. He set off on a voyage of circumnavigation from San Lucar de Barrameda with five ships in 1519.

Only one of these ships returned to Spain in 1522. Magellan was one of those who didn’t return. He died in battle on the island of Cebu in the Philippines. Of the 270 men who left Spain for the expedition, only 17 returned.

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