The sculptural monument situated within Brenton Point State Park on the southern tip of Aquidneck Island is dedicated to Portuguese maritime navigators of the Golden Age of Maritime Exploration. During this era, from the early 1400's to the late 1500's, Portugal was the forerunner in maritime exploration.
Brenton Point was selected as the site for this Monument because it is very reminiscent of Sagres Point (pictured left), the point in southern Portugal where Prince Henry initiated the process of exploring the way to travel to the far east by sea. It was here that the maritime era emanated from the minds of the foremost scholars in mathematics, astronomy, cartography, and those that were experts regarding the compass, water currents, and the winds.
In the words of eminent scholar and chief librarian of the Library of Congress, Daniel Boorstin:
"The Portuguese voyagers were on a century and a half enterprise, the actual meaning of which was imagined long in advance, the accomplishment was known immediately. Columbus’ greatest achievement was something he never even imagined, a by-product of his purposes, a consequence of unexpected facts. The Portuguese achievement was a product of clear purpose, which required heavy national support. Here was a grand prototype of modern exploration."
There are 16 elements in the Portuguese Age of Discovery Monument. The 14 elements placed in a semicircle are an abstraction of the circular compass rose at Sagres Point. The elements are placed to represent a two-thirds sphere, which symbolizes the two-thirds of the maritime sea routes discovered by the early navigators in the fifteenth century. The central, large multifaceted stone marker has been designed to evoke the tradition of explorers leaving behind a marker of their presence. The final element represents an armillary sphere which is one of Portugal’s most significant and enduring symbols, represented on the present day flag.
Price Henry the Navigator, was obsessed with exploration, expansion. The most efficient way to achieve such goals was by sailing the un-mapped, unforgiving oceans. To safely navigate the oceans back then one had to have the perfect combination of knowledge and skill. That is why Prince Henry founded a nautical school at Sagres, Portugal in 1419. This lead to a collaboration of the best nautical minds in the country at the time and sparked Innovation. New technologies such as the Caravel were invented and greatly influenced exploration for the rest of the 15th and 16th century. Prior to the Portuguese invention of the Caravel, Europeans sailed with ancient cargo ships discovered in the Mediterranean Sea, which were extremely fragile and unfit to navigate harsh waters.
The Caravel (pictured right) was developed by the Portuguese around 1458 and had far
superior sailing characteristics then any other vessel in Europe at the time. Opposed to it's
lumbering counterparts they were agile, and their shallow keel allowed the ships to sail
much closer to shore. The boats included one to three masts, with lateen triangular shapes
that allowed for beating. Beating is a technique that allows sailors to indirectly traverse up
wind, a feat no ships prior to the Caravel were able to accomplish. The drawbacks
included limited space for cargo and crew, however it was still the preferred choice of
renowned explorers Diogo Cao, Bartolomeu Dias and many others.
To give a perspective on how advanced the technology was for its time, variations of and
principles from the Caravel are still used in America's Cup - a multi nation race that
features some of the best sailors in the world.
This monument is dedicated to the memory of the Portuguese navigators, mapmakers, explorers, fleet commanders, and those Portuguese who assisted in the discovery of the maritime routes of two-thirds of the world and initiating the process of globalization.