When Dinis Dias rounded Cape Verde, the western tip of Africa, in 1445, the most barren coast had been passed, and the prosperous Portuguese trader with west Africa soon engaged twenty-five caravels every year. By 1457 Alvise da Cadamosto – a Venetian precursor of the Italian sea captains like Columbus, Vespucci, and the Cabots who served foreign princes – advancing down the coast for Prince Henry had accidentally discovered the Cape Verde Islands and then went up the Senegal and Gambia rivers sixty miles from the sea. This Cadamosto proved to be one of the most observant as well as one of the boldest of Prince Henry’s explorers. By his engaging accounts of curious tribal customs, of tropical vegetation, elephants, and hippopotami, he enticed others to follow.

At the time of Prince Henry’s death in Sagres in 1460 the discovery of the west African coast had only begun, but it was well begun. The barrier of groundless fear had been breached in what became the first continuous organized enterprise into the unknown. Prince Henry therefore is properly celebrated as the founder of continuous discovery. For him each new step into the unknown was a further invitation.

“The Portuguese Discoverers”, from “The Discoverers”, Daniel J. Boorstin, The National Board for the Celebration of Portuguese Discoveries, Lisbon, 1987

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