Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Exploring the Algarve - Sagres

We hired a car - a small Citroen - for three days to get out and have a look at some of the towns and historic sites around the Algarve. First up was Sagres, the south-westernmost point of Europe, famous as the home of Prince Henry the Navigator who ruled Portugal in the first half of the 15th Century, the dawn of the 'Age of Discovery'.

Portugal had several advantages at this time: firstly Henry himself, who was head of the Knights of Christ (formerly the Templars, the remnants of whom had escaped a massacre and been given sanctuary in Portugal) and had access to capital to finance exploration; secondly, they had invented the moveable, triangular sails that made it possible to tack a ship, rather than being at the mercy of contrary winds; thirdly, they had access to Arab technology (astrolabe and quadrant) and charts; and finally, they had managed to get past some of the superstitions about the seas beyond the Mediterranean - including the belief that the far Atlantic was boiling because that's where the sun set. With the funding, ships, technology and an 'enterprising' attitude in place, there was no stopping them, especially when the wealth from natural resources in Brazil, trading goods in Asia and slaves from Africa started to flow in.

There is a formidable fort on the southernmost point, set high on the cliffs and commanding a view (and cannon range) for an impressive distance. Across the Bay of Sagres to the Northwest is the lighthouse on Cabo de Sao Vicente - the light that welcomed us to Europe at the end of our Atlantic crossing. It was interesting to see it from the land perspective as well.

There are some great beaches along here as well, sheltered from the land 'breezes' that come screaming into Lagos every afternoon. Dozens of surf schools along the coast, and you can see that there would be some excellent surf breaks under the right conditions.

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