This windswept coast was once home to a navigators’ institution that readied explorers because that adventures in the new World


Fisherman casts off from the cliffs that Cape Sagres. Jose Pedro Fernandes / Alamy

In the days before Columbus, once the human being was presumed to be flat, this rough southwestern pointer of Portugal to be the point out closest come the sheet of the Earth. Prince Henry the Navigator, identified to increase Europe’s horizons and also spread Catholicism, established his navigators’ college here, and also sent sailors ever before further right into the unknown. Shipwrecked and frustrated explorers were closely debriefed together they to wash ashore.

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Portugal’s “end that the road” is two distinctive capes. Publicly Cape St. Vincent is actually the many southwestern tip. It has actually a desolate lighthouse (currently closed for restoration) the marks what was referred to even in ancient times as “the finish of the world.” exterior the lighthouse, salt-of-the-earth vendors sell figs, seaworthy sweaters (€25 average), cotton tea towels (a bargain at €1), and the “Letzte Bratwurst vor Amerika” (last hotdog before America). Cape Sagres, through its old fort and also Henry the Navigator lore, is the more historic cape of the two. At either cape, watch for daronger windsurfers and also fishermen casting off the cliffs.

Lashed tightly come the windswept see is the braided town of Sagres, above a harbor of fishing boats. Sagres is a well-known gathering ar for the backpacking crowd, v plenty of private rooms in the center and also a proper existent beach and also bar scene.

Sagres Fort and Navigators’ college The previous “end of the world” is a craggy, windswept, wedge-shaped point that juts right into the Atlantic (short drive or 15-min walk indigenous Sagres). In 1420, Prince Henry the Navigator supplied his Order’s funds to develop a school right here for navigators. Today, little remains of Henry’s school, other than the website of buildings replaced by later (sometimes new) structures. One 18th-century fortress, built on the school’s original battlements, restrict the entrance to the allude (€1.50, everyday May–Sept 9:30–20:00, till 17:30 off-season, tel. 282-620-140).

1. Plaque inside Entrance: ~ entering with the 18th-century battlements, uncover the carved stone plaque the honors Henry. The ship in the plaque is a caravel, one of the small, irradiate craft that was constantly being revolutionized by Sagres’ shipbuilding grad students. The astrolabe, a compact instrument that uses the stars because that navigation, emphasizes Henry’s role in the exploration process.

2. Wind-Compass: Sagres’ many impressive sight--a one on the ground, 100 feet throughout and outlined by ring pebbles--is a mystery. Part think it was a huge wind-compass (rosa-dos-ventos). A flag flying from the facility could automatically announce the wind’s direction. Others speculate that a big sundial. A pole in the center pointing towards the phibìc Star (at a 37-degree angle, Sagres’ latitude) would actors a zero on the dial mirroring the time the day.

3. Remains of the School: The heat of buildings past the wind-compass is wherein the school when was. The tower-cistern (abutting the end of the modern Exhibition Centre) is component of the initial dorms. The tiny whitewashed 16th-century Church of our Lady that Grace changed Henry’s church. The former Governor’s home is currently the restaurant/gift shop complex. Attached to the gift shop is a windbreak wall that days from Henry’s time, but is greatly rebuilt.

The Sagres institution taught mapmaking, shipbuilding, sailing, astronomy, and mathematics (for navigating), to add botany, zoology, anthropology, languages, and also salesmanship for mingling with the locals. The school welcomed Italians, Scandinavians, and Germans and also included Christians, Muslims, and also Jews. Caught Africans gave guest lectures. (The following 15 generations of afri were no so lucky, being sold into slavery by the 10s of thousands.)

Besides being a school, Sagres to be Mission regulate for the explorers. Returning sailors lugged spices, gold, diamonds, silk, and ivory, plus new animals, plants, peoples, customs, communicable diseases, and knowledge that the paths that were added to the maps. Henry notified every sailor to keep a travel journal that might be studied. Ship designs were analyzed and tweaked, causing the square-sailed, oceangoing caravels that replaced the previously coast-hugging versions.

It’s claimed that Ferdinand Magellan (circumnavigator), Vasco da Gama (found sea course to India), Pedro Cabral (discovered Brazil), and also Bartolomeu Dias (Africa-rounder) every studied in ~ Sagres (after Henry’s time, though). In might 1476, the young Italian Christopher Columbus washed ashore below after being shipwrecked by pirates. The went on to study and also sail v the Portuguese (and marry a Portuguese woman) prior to beginning his American voyage. Once Portugal denied Columbus’s inquiry to sail west, Spain accepted. The rest is history.

4. The Point: past the buildings, the granite allude itself is windswept, eroded, and largely barren, other than for hardy, coarse vegetation admired by botanists. Go on level paths roughly the leaf of the bluff (a 40-min round-trip walk), where locals actors lines and also tourists squint into the wind. You will do it get good seascape see of Cape St. Vincent, with its modern-day lighthouse top top the site of one old convent. At the far finish of the Sagres bluff space a naval radio station, a organic cave, and a promontory referred to as “Prince Henry’s Chair.”

Sit on the suggest and gaze throughout the “Sea the Darkness,” where monsters roam. Long prior to Henry’s time, Romans taken into consideration it the leaf of the world, dubbing that Promontorium Sacrum--Sacred (“Sagres”) Promontory. Pilgrims who concerned visit this awe-inducing location were prohibited to invest the night here--it was for the god alone.

In Portugal’s seafaring lore, capes, promontories, and land’s ends are metaphors for the sheet of the old, and also the begin of the unknown voyage. Sagres is the greatest of these.

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Rick Steves ( to write European travel guidebooks and also hosts travel shows on public television and also public radio. E-mail him at , or compose to him c/o P.O. Crate 2009, Edmonds, WA 98020.