Henry the Navigator and the great discoveries of Portugal

Henry the Navigator and the great discoveries of Portugal

History baptized him Henry "the Navigator" (1394-1460) and yet he rarely left his little promontory of Sagrès from which he kicked off the Great Discoveries half a century before Christopher Columbus.


A scholar particularly familiar with astronomy, cartography and geography, Henry the Navigator (1394-1460) is a reference figure for Christopher Columbus. He is the true initiator of the Portuguese empire. The impetus of the Infante Henrique, “national saint” of Portugal, allows the achievement of a collective feat and the development of a modern exploration model: the discovery of the north-western coasts of the African continent, point start of commercial exploitation by Europeans of extra-western territories.

Henry the Navigator symbolizes the completion of the transition between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance: he defeats the medieval Christian myth of the unknown beyond the seas and his fantastic imagination. His initiative marks “a century, a people and even an era of humanity”. By defeating the myth, he creates the myth: that of the explorer, of the solitary discoverer. His nickname, the Navigator, directly echoes the Great Discoveries and the decompartmentalization of worlds beyond land routes.

Henry the Navigator and the Great Discoveries of Portugal, by Michel Vergé-Franceschi. Editions du Félin, May 2016.


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