The Doorway to India

The main purpose of the exploration of the West African coast was to attain as soon as possible the Indian Ocean and its profitable trade. The known maps showed that was impossible to accomplish, for in those maps there was no access to the Indian Ocean. However, the Portuguese rulers, merchants and navigators concentrated their efforts in finding a passage.

D. João II, the king in power at the end of the 15th century, organised several voyages of exploration, but died (1495) before seeing the route to the Indies opened:

  • Diogo Cão reached the Zaire (Congo) river mouth in 1483;
  • Bartolomeu Dias sailed around the Cape of Good Hope (until than known as Cape of Torments), in 1487.

Lopo Homem, map of India. (APH image)

The doorway to the Indies, the land of spices, was opened. Meanwhile, Spain had also joined the expansion race and, to solve several conflicts, the two countries signed a treaty in 1494, the Treaty of Tordesillas, in which they agreed to share among themselves all the already discovered or yet to be discovered lands. Vasco da Gama reached the Indies in 1498, in the reign of D. Manuel I. A second expedition sent to the Indies, in 1500, commanded by Pedro Álvares Cabral, officially discovered Brazil.

Detail of the monastery of Jerónimos, Lisbon, whose construction was commissioned by D. Manuel I
to commemorate the arrival of Vasco da Gama to India, and the opening of the spice trade.
The so-called manueline style to which this building belongs is, in fact,
a variation of the high gothic. (APH photo).

Baby Jesus adored by the Three Kings, by Vasco Fernandes,
better known as Grão Vasco, Museu Grão Vasco, Viseu. This is the one of the first appearances (if not the first) of an American Indian in European painting, as a result of the arrival of the Portuguese in Brazil. The Portuguese paintings from the 15th and 16th centuries reflect a strong influence from Flemish, artits due to the strong commercial contacts between Portugal and Flanders. Portugal established a trading-station in Antwerp as a base to sell its colonial products, mainly spices, to northern Europe. (APH photo).

Lisbon in the 16th century became the capital and trade centre of an extended maritime empire, based in key points along the coasts, and on the control of the main trade routes of the south Atlantic and of the Indian Ocean. Portugal became, thus, the first global power.

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