let us now praise great men

There was a time when most of the known world fell under the influence of the crowns of Spain and Portugal.  From the early 15th century through to the 17th, these two countries engaged in a rivalrous exploration, establishing contact with Africa, Asia, and the Americas, while mapping the globe. It was the Age of Discovery, also know as the Age of Exploration; a bridge from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, fueled by great men performing feats of derring-do. To prevent a conflict  the two countries entered into a formal treaty that essentially divided the world in half, giving each exclusive rights to their newly discovered lands. When Columbus sailed west towards the New World, Vasco da Gama headed east, rounding the Cape of Good Hope and finding a route to India, the Spice Islands, and ultimately China.  Spheres of influence overlapped once Ferdinand Magellan circumnavigated the globe, however, and suddenly the English, French, and Dutch woke up to the fact there was a lot of money to be made on the road – to use an old theatrical phrase.  But that takes nothing away from Portugal, whose sailors went beyond the limits of human imagination at a time when the sea was dominated by little more than myths and mystery.  It’s with that in mind that the Monument to the Discoveries was erected along the Tagus River for the Portuguese World’s Fair in 1940.  A 170-foot high slab of concrete carved in the shape of a ship’s prow, at the tip is Henry the Navigator – sponsor of Bartolomeu Dias’ 1460 exploration of sub-Saharan Africa – flanked by 33 other explorers, cartographers, and scientists of the time. (It’s not nearly as Soviet as it sounds.) An enormous world map mosaic occupies the front plaza and outlines the routes of various Portuguese explorers. Oh and yes, you can go to the top of the monument and take in the view, too.


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