"Sagres, Birthplace of Portugal's Age of Discovery!" Top 5 Page for this destination Sagres by dlytle

Sagres Travel Guide: 119 reviews and 382 photos

Sagres - a place of history and charm

The most southerly community in Portugal, containing the most south-westerly point in continental Europe, is at Sagres, overlooking the Bay of Sagres, which is itself flanked by two headlands: Atalaia Point and Sagres Point. From the grey ramparts of the fortress blocking off the massive plateau of Sagres Point you can cast your eye around the 6 mile (10 km) arc of sheer cliffs to the lighthouse at Cape St. Vincent. This place was at least as important during the Age of Discovery as Cape Canaveral was during the early years of space exploration. When the weather is fair, it can be a powerful sensation to sit quietly anywhere along the cliff tops here and look out to sea and ponder the extraordinary adventurers who have passed this way.

And as you gaze around you see that the surrounding cliffs make an impressive sight with their towering height constantly assaulted by the strength of the foaming, frothing Ocean. The coastline here is not sheltered and tucked away from the force of Atlantic storms, as it was further east along the Algarve coast. These tall cliffs are interrupted by beaches of golden sand favored by surfers and those who like to let the sun and sea mist kiss their skin as they sunbath and play in beautiful little coves. These dramatic headlands are a haven for birds, especially during the migration period, and you will appreciate the aerial acrobatics and graceful flight of various frolicking flocks. And it is not unusual to see local fishermen wedged in dramatic positions on the towering cliff face with the sea thundering beneath … a vision not for the feint hearted!

It was to this place that the Prince Henry the Navigator (Infante D. Henrique), came in the 15th century to work on his obsession to push back the frontiers of the known world.

In 1415 young Prince Henry and 50,000 troops sailed from Lagos and captured Ceuta, a Moorish stronghold on the Moroccan coast, which today is an enclave belonging to Spain. Thus began Henry's interest in Africa, which led him to establish his navigation school at Sagres, and launch the Age of Discovery. When his naval architects designed the caravel, Lagos became the major shipbuilding center and commercial port. This is where the ships set sail on their voyages, and where they returned laden with gold, ivory, jewels, – and, sadly, human slaves as well.

Prince Henry was also a great teacher, a nautical and astronomical specialist, and a brilliant organizer and sponsor of oceanic exploration. He assembled the best mathematicians, cartographers, shipbuilders, astronomers, mariners and chroniclers in the world and brought them here to his School of Navigation.

Here on these surf pounding steep cliffs, on the southwestern tip of Portugal, he organized these Portuguese mariners so that they gained the necessary knowledge to explore the World.

The exact location of Henry's school is not known. It is generally accepted that he sited his headquarters on the headlands at Sagres. The nearby settlement came to be known as Vila do Infante, or Prince's town. This is popularly believed to have been situated on the promontory within the high white walls of the ‘Forteleza’ that were rebuilt after the 1755 earthquake. The only building still surviving and thought to have been around in more or less its present form in Henry's day, is the starkly simple little church within the fortress.

This school and observatory gave the Portuguese the impetus for the exploration of the West Coast of Africa and other places in the vast unknown world. These conquests were recognized by Castile in the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494 - under its terms Portugal was granted all lands lying to the east of a hypothetical line running 370 leagues west of the Azores. To these conquests, Pedro Alvares Cabral added Brazil in 1500.

Sagres is a place with a host of different identities. You can visit the historic Sagres fort and nearby Cape St Vincent without ever realizing that behind the cliffs hides the port of Sagres one of the busiest fishing ports on the Algarve.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Lot of historical significance within very short distances, beautiful coastline, easy to get to from all along the Algarve
  • Cons:None that I can think of.
  • In a nutshell:Come take a look at this place, you won't regret it.
  • Last visit to Sagres: Jul 2003
  • Intro Updated Nov 20, 2003
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Reviews (21)

Comments (3)

  • crostudent's Profile Photo
    Apr 6, 2009 at 1:26 AM

    Nice comment about Praia de Beliche. For me it is the most fascinating corner of all places I have been to so far together with Sagres. I hope I will go there again and spent there at least one month. Regards from Croatia!

  • quartinb's Profile Photo
    Jan 25, 2004 at 4:47 PM

    off the beatten path tips very good and accurate...!

  • ncfg's Profile Photo
    Dec 9, 2003 at 9:20 AM

    Great info and pics about Sagres. Well done!


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