Henry the Navigator was born in Porto, Portugal, in 1394. Although he was neither a sailor nor a navigator, he sponsored a great deal of exploration along the west coast of Africa. Under his patronage, Portuguese crews founded the country's first colonies and visited regions previously unknown to Europeans. Henry is regarded as an originator of the Age of Discovery and the Atlantic slave trade.

The Portuguese were the first explorers. In 1418, Prince Henry - the Navigator - set up a School of Navigation at Sagres, in the south of Portugal, and started systematic exploration of the African coast. The caravel, a ship with a shallow draft and the ability to sail to windward with a combination of square and lateen sails, is said to have been perfected here. Quickly, his captains discovered Madeira and the Azores. In 1443, they reached Mauritania and started trading in slaves. After Prince Henry's death, explorations continued. By 1470 the Portuguese reached the Equator; the next year they arrived at the Gold Coast (Ghana). After reaching the Cape of Good Hope in 1488, the road to India was now open. In 1498, with the help of a Arab pilot, Vasco de Gama reached India; his round trip took two years.The Portuguese Empire was the earliest and longest lived of the modern European colonial empires. It spanned almost six centuries, from the capture of Ceuta in 1415 to Macau's return to China in 1999. Portuguese explorers began exploring the coast of Africa in 1419, leveraging the latest developments in navigation, cartography and maritime technology searching for a sea route to the source of the lucrative spice trade. In 1488, Bartolomeu Dias rounded the Cape of Good Hope, and in 1498, Vasco da Gama reached India. In 1500, Pedro Álvares Cabral added Brazil to Portugal's "discoveries.As skilled Portuguese sailors explored the coasts and islands of East Asia, a series forts and trading posts soon followed. By 1571, outposts connected Lisbon to Nagasak. The empire was now global, and a source of great wealth. Between 1580 and 1640, Portugal was Spain's junior partner in the Iberian Union. Although the Spanish and Portuguese empires were administered separately, Portugal's became the subject of attacks by the The Netherlands (engaged in a war of independence against Spain), England, and France. Unable to defend the network of trading posts and factories, the empire went into decline. The loss of the largest and most profitable colony, Brazil, in 1822 as independence movements swept through the Americas, was a blow from which Portugal and its empire never recovered.

On May 20, 1498, Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama landed in what is now Kozhikode, India. Da Gama was the first European to reach the lucrative trade centers of India by sea.Portugal and other European empires had been trading with communities in India and throughout Southeast Asia for centuries. The legendary Silk Road was an overland trade route that linked the fabled spice markets of the east with the bustling commerce of the west. However, traveling through disputed territories in the Mediterranean Sea and Arabian Peninsula was dangerous and time-consuming.

The Portuguese viceroy Alfonso de Albuquerque then looked further East. His first objective was Malacca, which controlled the narrow strait between Malaya and Sumatra through which most Far Eastern trade moved. Captured in 1511, Malacca became the springboard for further eastward penetration; several years later the first trading posts were established in the Moluccas, or "Spice Islands," which was the source for some of the world's most hotly demanded spices. By 1516, the first Portuguese ships had reached Canton on the southern coasts of China and after 40 years, in 1557, they obtained a permanent base at Macau, which they held until 1999. The Portuguese, now based at Goa and Malacca, had established a lucrative maritime empire in the Indian Ocean meant to monopolise the spice trade. They also began a channel of trade with the Japanese, becoming the first recorded Westerners to have visited Japan.Spices were as valuable as gold in the age of discovery. In the 16th century, over half of Portugal's state revenue came from West African gold and Indian pepper and other spices; with the profits from spices greatly outweighing the gold. From around 1515, every year 3 to 4 carracks would leave Lisbon for Goa with silver to purchase cotton and spices in India, mainly black pepper. Of these, only one carrack went on to China in order to purchase silk, also in exchange for Portuguese silver. The ships involved were quite large: a returning merchant ship wrecked in sight of Lisbon in 1606 carried 250 tons of pepper and had over 400 people on board.After the acquisition of Macao in 1557, and the formal recognition as trade partners by the Chinese, the Portuguese had the monopoly of trade with Japan: a single carrack every year, loaded with silk and returning with silver. That trade continued with few interruptions until 1638, when the Dutch took over. The yearly portuguese Black Ship to Japan is featured in the novel Shogun.Macau would continue to play an important role even after the Portuguese lost their monopoly. It served as an entrepot for 3 lucrative trade routes all using portuguese vessels: 1) Canton-Goa-Lisbon for european trade, 2) Canton-Nagasaki (silver for silk) and eventually 3) Macau-Manila-Mexico. Macau also served as a religious center for spreading Catholicism to China, Japan and southeast Asia. Eventually the Portuguese would lose the Japan trade in 1636 and gradually lose ground to other European powers. But, for 300 years, Macau remained the only chinese base open to all foreign powers. Even when Canton was opened for trade, foreigners would have to return to Macao after the shiping season. This would only change in 1842 after the Opium Wars; but then, nearby HongKong would then replace Macau as the dominant European Base. 

Da Gama and his fleet used well-traveled routes to navigate down the western coast of Africa. After re-supplying in the Canary Islands, da Gama took a chance and sailed west into the Atlantic Ocean—the opposite direction of where he wanted to go. He took advantage of the strong, reliable winds called Westerlies to quickly steer him to the southern coast of Africa. Da Gama and his fleet rounded the Cape of Good Hope in December 1497, and named the nearby coast Natal, after the Portuguese word for Christmas. (The South African province of KwaZulu-Natal retains this name today.) Da Gama established poor relations with leaders in what are now the coasts of Mozambique and southern Kenya—the Europeans became pirates of Arab trading ships in the region.

The squadron of Vasco da Gama left Portugal in 1497, rounded the Cape and continued along the coast of East Africa, where a local pilot was brought on board who guided them across the Indian Ocean, reaching Calicut (the capital of the native kingdom ruled by Zamorins) in south-western India in May 1498.The second voyage to India was dispatched in 1500 under Pedro Álvares Cabral. While following the same south-westerly route as Gama across the Atlantic Ocean, Cabral made landfall on the Brazilian coast. This was probably an accidental discovery, but it has been speculated that the Portuguese secretly knew of Brazil's existence and that it lay on their side of the Tordesillas line. Cabral recommended to the Portuguese King that the land be settled, and two follow up voyages were sent in 1501 and 1503. The land was found to be abundant in pau-brasil, or brazilwood, from which it later inherited its name, but the failure to find gold or silver meant that for the time being Portuguese efforts were concentrated on India. In 1502, to enforce its trade monopoly over a wide area of the Indian Ocean, the Portuguese Empire created the cartaz licensing system, granting merchant ships protection against pirates and rival states.Profiting from the rivalry between the ruler of Kochi and the Zamorin of Calicut, the Portuguese were well-received and seen as allies, as they obtained a permit to build the fort Immanuel (Fort Kochi) and a trading post that were the first European settlement in India. They established a trading center at Tangasseri, Quilon (Coulão, Kollam) city in (1503) in 1502, which became the centre of trade in pepper,and after founding manufactories at Cochin (Cochim, Kochi) and Cannanore (Canonor, Kannur), built a factory at Quilon in 1503. In 1505 King Manuel I of Portugal appointed Francisco de Almeida first Viceroy of Portuguese India, establishing the Portuguese government in the east. That year the Portuguese also conquered Kannur, where they founded St. Angelo Fort, and Lourenço de Almeida arrived in Ceylon (modern Sri Lanka), where he discovered the source of cinnamon. Although Cankili I of Jaffna initially resisted contact with them, the Jaffna kingdom came to the attention of Portuguese officials soon after for their resistance to missionary activities as well as logistical reasons due to its proximity with Trincomalee harbour among other reasons.[39] In the same year, Manuel I ordered Almeida to fortify the Portuguese fortresses in Kerala and within eastern Africa, as well as probe into the prospects of building forts in Sri Lanka and Malacca in response to growing hostilities with Muslims within those regions and threats from the Mamluk sultan.

Vasco da Gama’s mission was to subdue Zamorin and his forces to the Portuguese rule and on February 12,1502, a fleet of fifteen heavily armed ships and 800 men left the harbor of Lisbon. On the way to India, he was able to extract gold from the sultanate of Kilwa and attacked any and all Muslim vessels in the Indian Ocean, most notoriously the Miri, a pilgrimage ship towards Mecca on which all Muslims were massacred.Da Gama’s discovery was significant and opened the way for an age of global imperialism and for the Portuguese to establish a long-lasting colonial empire in Asia. The route meant that the Portuguese would not need to cross the highly disputed Mediterranean nor the dangerous Arabian Peninsula, and that the whole voyage would be made by sea. The sum of the distances covered in the outward and return voyages made this expedition the longest ocean voyage ever made until then, far longer than a full voyage around the world by way of the Equator.

Rio de Janeiro was founded by Portuguese colonists in 1565.The first Portuguese expedition to explore the Brazilian coast, between 1501 and 1502, visited places in Rio, like the Guanabara Bay and Angra dos Reis.The only product which attracted some interest was pau-brasil, which was very abundant in this region; because of the pau-brasil, there were many reports of French ships visiting the area and trying to establish relationships with the indians.After the creation of the hereditary capitanies, in 1534, the territory of Rio was split into two capitanies: São Tomé and São Vicente; the former was returned to the King in 1545, after constant attacks from the indians; the later prospered, based on the plantations of sugar cane, but the progress was concentrated on the southern part of the capitany, around the villages of São Vicente (the oldest city in Brazil) and São Paulo.In 1555, the French occupied the area around the Guanabara Bay and founded the Antarctic France; until 1565, there were combats between French and Portuguese; in 1565, the French were expelled, and Estácio de Sá founded the city of São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro.To populate the area and protect it from further invasions, Portugal not only defined Rio as one of the administrative centers of the colony (the other was Salvador), but also stimulated the foundation of several villages along the coast, such as Angra dos Reis, Cabo Frio, São Pedro da Aldeia, Macaé, Paraty and Campos dos Goitacazes.The economy grew at a slow pace. The pau-brasil soon exhausted. Cabo Frio started the exploration of the marine salt, activity which has been lasting all these centuries. The culture of sugar cane wasn't so successful as in other areas, but, by the end of the 17th century, it was the most important production of Rio de Janeiro; the largest farms were in the area of Campos, where the production of sugar is, until today, an important economic activity.

Pedro Álvares Cabral discovers Brazil,Portugal discovered Brazil in 1500, a land that would become the basis of their empire in the Americas. They also were the primary European power in Asia, setting up trading posts and colonies in India (Goa), Macau (China) and throughout much of western Africa.

Late in the 17th century, gold was found in Minas Gerais ; to facilitate taxation and combat contraband, the King of Portugal determined that all the gold production should be exported through the port of Rio de Janeiro.Even though the production was concentrated in Minas Gerais, many villages were founded along the path between the mines and the port. Big transformations happened in Rio: increase of population (with immigrants coming from Portugal and other areas of Brazil), the appearance of a free working class (in contrast with the master-slave structure which existed in the cane production areas), diversification of plantations, etc.In 1763, the city of Rio became the only administrative capital of Brazil. In 1808, fleeding from the Napoleonic Wars, the King moved the entire court to Rio de Janeiro; the city saw improvements in the urbanization, to receive the noblèsse, which in turn brought a cultural atmosphere that the city otherwise would never have.In 1822, after Brazil became independent, the city of Rio became capital of the Empire. Besides, while all capitanies were turned into provinces (with governants appointed by the central government, not always to the best interest of the local population), the capitany of Rio de Janeiro retained an unique status: it would be ruled directly by the Emperor (this status would bring many budgetary privileges to Rio).Rio de Janeiro was not only the largest urban center of Brazil, but also the one with faster growth; there were economic, social and culture refinements, which would make Rio the most well known Brazilian city.With coffee, along came the railroads, which permitted a more efficient transportation. The first rails were laid toward Petropolis (named after the Emperors, Pedro I and Pedro II) and inaugurated in 1854; many cities were also reached by trains, and had economic gains: Vassouras, Rio Bonito, Itaboraí, Campos and others.

Rio de Janeiro was founded in 1565 by the Portuguese as a village by the Sugar Loaf, a stronghold to defend the territory against foreign invaders after the expulsion of the French settlers. The full name of the city, São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro, is a tribute to the Portuguese king. In 1567 the village was moved to Morro do Castelo; by this time the population amounted to only 3000 people, most of them indians. The main industries then were fishing, especially whales, and sugar, with large sugar cane plantations and processing plants that extended from Gávea and the Rodrigo de Freitas lake to the suburbs.

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