What were the great discoveries of the Renaissance?

What were the great discoveries of the Renaissance?

The great discoveries refer to the numerous expeditions of European explorers during the Renaissance. Portuguese and Spanish navigators set out to discover new continents and open up new trade routes.

The Portuguese navigators were the first to explore the Atlantic in the 15th century, going down to the African coast. The land routes to the East that Marco Polo had used in the 13th century had become very uncertain since the capture of Constantinople by the Turks in 1453. The first idea was to bypass Africa to reach India and China, then came the more audacious concept of Christopher Columbus, which consisted of taking the sea route by the west.

Portuguese discoveries

In the 1420s, Portugal launched a real naval policy with the recruitment of geographers and the construction of a new type of boat: the caravel. The new vessel helped discover the Azores in 1427, Cape Verde and the Senegal River in 1444. Bartolomeu Dias crossed the Cape of Good Hope in January 1488 and thus opened the maritime route to India, reached by Vasco de Gama in May 1498, when he landed on the west coast near Calicut and Goa.

The Portuguese will multiply the explorations to weave a network between the Cape of Good Hope and the African ports in Mozambique, Zanzibar, Mogadishu, and others towards the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. The navigator Afonso de Albuquerque seized Malacca in 1511, controlling the passage between Sumatra and Malaysia.

The sea route to the spice islands, the Moluccas, was open: from 1512, Portugal imposed an uncontested commercial monopoly until the arrival of the Dutch at the beginning of the 17th century. In 1516, the Portuguese opened the first European trading post in China, in Macao.

Spanish discoveries

In 1492, the Genoese navigator Christopher Columbus convinced the Queen of Castile to finance his project to reach the Indies from the west, believing that the shortest route between Spain and Asia was via the Atlantic. The departure from the Canary Islands took place on August 31, 1492. The three caravels of the expedition reached the Bahamas on October 11 and Cuba the following days. Three other transatlantic voyages allowed Columbus to map the Greater and Lesser Antilles, but above all, to set up the colonization process, which was fatal for the natives.

Christopher Columbus never wanted to admit the discovery of a new continent: until he died in 1506, he claimed that he had set foot on a territorial advance from Asia. The name "America" appeared in 1507 on a map of the world printed in Saint-Dié in the Vosges: the geographer Waldseemüller named the "New World" after the navigator Amerigo Vespucci.

Sharing the world

The Portuguese and Spanish discoveries required papal arbitration to avoid any dispute over their territorial sovereignty: the Treaty of Tordesillas of June 7, 1494, which established a meridian of separation between the Spanish and Portuguese domains, 370 leagues west of Cape Verde. All the lands located to the west of this meridian belonged to Spain and the east to Portugal.

In 1500, Portugal acquired Brazil (which is located in the Portuguese zone fixed by the treaty) thanks to the navigator Pedro Álvares Cabral who has strongly deviated from his trajectory while trying to reach the Cape of Good Hope.

In August 1519, Ferdinand Magellan left Seville with five ships, intending to reach the Spice Islands by the west, which led the fleet he commanded on a round-the-world voyage that was not the initial project. He sailed around South America through the strait that now bears his name and crosses the Pacific. In March 1521, he discovered the Philippine archipelago (named after Philip, the son of Charles V) before being murdered. His expedition carried out the first circumnavigation of the world: a single ship (the Victoria) returned to Spain in September 1522.

In 1529, the Treaty of Saragossa established the dividing line between Spanish and Portuguese possessions, between the Indian and Pacific Oceans: Portugal renounced the Philippines but kept all the territories conquered since Vasco de Gama's arrival in India.

To be noted

The sea route to Asia, via the north of America, remained to be discovered: this was the object of Giovanni da Verrazzano's voyage in 1524, commissioned by King Francis I. The Florentine explorer traveled along the eastern coast of America as far as Newfoundland and found that the American continent was indeed a barrier between Europe and Asia. He named North America "Nova Gallia" in the name of the King of France.

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