Portuguese Golden Age
The Era of Discoveries in Portugal and the Portuguese Golden Age started with Prince Henry the Navigator. It was Henry's demand for geographical accuracy, his crusading zeal, his love of marital glory and lust for gold, ivory, slaves and spices that transformed the country into a wealthy maritime power. To develop navigation and cartographic techniques, Henry established a community of scholars in Sagres, on the southern coast of Portugal, in today's Algarve. It was Prince Henry the Navigator who was responsible for the discovery of Madeira, the Azores, Cape Verde, and Sierra Leone, and he provided the blueprint for continued exploration during the rest of the 15th century.
In 1482, Portuguese ships explored the mouth of the Congo, and in 1488, Bartholomeu Dies rounded the cape of Good Hope. In 1497, Vasco da Gama reached India, clearing the way for trade in spices, porcelain, silk, ivory and slaves.
The Treaty of Tordesillas of 1494, presided over by the pope, "divided" all the newly-discovered and soon to be-discovered lands between the two great powers - the Portuguese and the Spanish - along a line 370 leagues west of the Cape Verde Islands. Portugal won the lands east of the line, including Africa and Brazil. Spain won the rest, including South America and North America. The discovery of Australia, which many believe was first discovered in the 15th century by the Portuguese was never claimed by them because, due to the division line, it would go to the Spanish.
Using the wealth of the whole empire, Manuel I (the Fortunate) inspired great monuments or art and architecture whose style now bears his name. His reign inspired Portugal's Golden Age. By mid-16th century, the country had begun to tap into Brazil's natural resources and had broken Venice's monopoly on spice-trade. As the first of the great maritime world empires, Portugal dominated access to the Indian Ocean.
Manueline is a uniquely Portuguese architectural style, based on the High Gothic design and intricately decorative, twisted motifs. The development of this style coincides with the reign of Manuel I and it is interesting not only because of its extraordinarily imaginative, full of life designs, but also because this dizzying creativity expressed the era's wealth, cultural influences and the country's booming confidence. From the art history point of view, this style marks the transition from the Gothic to the Renaissance in Portugal.
The Age of Discoveries was exemplified by decorative, sculptural creations of eccentric inventiveness, inspired heavily by nautical themes: twisted ropes, knots, coral, shells, nets, and anchors in stone. Along with the elements of Gothic's delicate tracery, abstract Moorish designs and elongated Italian Mannerism style, there are also peacefully co-existing Crosses of the Portuguese Order of Christ and armillary spheres, curiously divided by a straight line in the center, implying the division of the world between Portugal and Spain. The Manueline style is heavily ornate, intertwined and elaborate. Along the nautical symbols there are also the newly introduced fruit and vegetables from the New World: corn, tomatoes and artichokes.
The best examples of the Manueline style can be admired in the Belem Tower and the Jeronimos Monastery in Belem, in the Knight's Templar Headquarters in Tomar and in the Cathedral in Batalha. Other examples are in the Azores and Madeira. In Sintra's National Palace the Manueline architecture is combined with the famous blue tiles (azulejos) panels.