Beyond the imposing natural landscape, “where the land ends and the sea begins”, Ponta de Sagres, also known as Promontory of Sagres, holds a rich history. It was here, at the southwestern limit of Europe, that the Prince or “ Infante” Henry the Navigator invested in maritime expansion, dismantling myths and beliefs that had long accompanied those who ventured beyond the sea.
Before Henry the Navigator, son of King João I, no member of the royal family had ever lived in the Algarve. With the conquest of Ceuta in 1415, the Navigator ended up moving to Lagos, where he already had spent some time in the past. However, it was in Sagres later on that the Infante created a village for himself, the Village of the Infante, whose exact location is unknown to this day but would be somewhere between Ponta de Sagres and Cape St. Vincent, and where he would eventually die in 1460 at the age of 66.
Popularly known as the Infante of Sagres or The Navigator, the Prince immediately perceived the potential of the Algarve. He, who saw no limits in the sea, realized that this region, located near Morocco, had the perfect conditions to achieve Portuguese maritime expansion. In the Algarve, he found experienced seafarers as well as carpenters and scholars in an unprecedented personal investment.
Conquest of Ceuta
Decease of Infante Dom Henrique
Century of foundation of Sagres Fortress
As the promoter of the Conquest of Ceuta, the Prince sought to conquer the sea and go even further. It was on his orders that attempts to round Cape Bojador began in 1422, which until then was the known limit of the West African coast and where it was assumed that the end of the world was located. Contrary to popular belief, Infante Henry refused to believe in legends that reported the existence of sea monsters there and that pointed that sea to be impassable. It was only in 1434, after many ships disappeared – according to Damião Peres, based on a royal letter from the 15th century, there were 15 attempts in 12 years – that Gil Eanes broke the myth. At the Prince’s command, the navigator born in Lagos and accustomed to taming the sea, managed to go beyond Bojador, but only on a second attempt. Eanes managed to reach Angra dos Ruivos, where he picked wild roses as proof that he had arrived.
Its fair to say that at that moment, a geographical revolution took place and changed all the previous knowledge. The passing of Cape Bojador marks a turning point in world history.
The Sagres Fortress, strategically located on the promontory of Sagres, is therefore a landmark of that time. Its foundation in the 15th century, for the control of maritime navigation in the Atlantic-Mediterranean axis, is associated with Infante D. Henrique. In the earthquake of 1755, it was heavily damaged and its reconstruction would only happen years later – the wall that exists today, for example, is later than the great earthquake. From the time of the Infante, it is believed that the compass rose with a diameter of 50 meters, now one of the great attractions of the Sagres Fortress, was created. In 2022, it ranked third in the list of most visited monuments in the country, after the Jerónimos Monastery and the Porto Cathedral.