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31. Origin of Vasco da Gama
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Sines is today an important industrial and port hub and is inseparable from the sea. It is this close relationship with the Atlantic that many believe also influenced the early career of Vasco da Gama, born here around 1469, the son of Estêvão da Gama, alcaide-mor (governor) of Sines, and Isabel Sodré. The history of Sines is actually intertwined in some way with the history of Vasco da Gama, who still has a very present legacy in the city. It was in the Sines Castle, the main monument of the city, where the navigator is said to have been born. He undoubtedly spent his childhood there, and his story is now told in the Casa de Vasco da Gama, a space within the Museum of Sines, in the Keep Tower of the Castle of Sines. Through a multimedia installation, Vasco da Gama’s biography is traced, his living spaces, his travels, and his encounters are illustrated. It is in this castle, one of the best viewpoints into the bay, that several important events of the city also take place, such as the World Music Festival, which every year brings people from outside to Sines. Following in the footsteps of Vasco da Gama, practically attached to the walls of the castle, is the Church of São Salvador, where Vasco da Gama received the “prima tonsura” in a religious ceremony on November 5, 1480, becoming a member of the Order of Santiago. According to the Municipality of Sines, “the enrollment in the Order of Santiago is the only fact of the navigator’s life until 1492 that is properly documented.” About twenty meters south of the Church of São Salvador, next to the west tower of the Castle, is the statue of Vasco Gama, an old desire of the city, but it only happened in 1970, on the occasion of the fifth centenary of the birth of the man who discovered the Sea Route to India.

And there is also the Church of Nossa Senhora das Salas, in the western part of the city, overlooking the fishing port, ordered to be built by Vasco da Gama, near the site where there was a thanksgiving chapel for a supposed miracle on the boat trip that brought the Greek princess Betaça (or Vetaça) Lescaris to Portugal. Nossa Senhora das Salas is the patron saint of the fishermen of Sines and the saint with the greatest popular cult. Every year, festivals are held in her honor, with processions on land and at sea. Within the church, not to be missed is the “Treasure of Nossa Senhora das Salas”, a museum space where jewels and utensils offered over the centuries to the image of the Virgin are on display, highlighting a embroidered dress that may have belonged to D. Isabel Sodré, Vasco da Gama’s mother.

But it is not possible to talk about Sines without mentioning its beaches, along thirty kilometers of the coastline. They are the great attraction. Between Sines and Porto Covo, there are extensive sandy beaches, practically in a wild state, as it is the trademark of the Alentejo Coast, and others, smaller and perfectly framed by nature, hidden between cliffs. Vasco da Gama also has his own beach, the one located in the city of Sines.