In the history of Europe, Renaissance Period denotes the time between thirteenth and seventeenth century A.D. (Anno Domini/Common Era). It is the Late Medieval Period of the Arab geographers, and some countries in Europe, such as Portugal, Spain, had the closest contact with the Arabian countries. This Renaissance period was the beginning for the revival of the interest about geographical and scientific studies which was lost during the Dark Age in Europe. This became possible by the European explorers as they set in their ocean voyages with the extensive desire to explore the world.

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Prince Henry of Portugal, also known as ‘Henry the Navigator’, embedded the outset of geographical study by establishing an institute of geographical research at Sagre, Portugal. Chronologically geographers, navigators, voyagers opened the door once again for the rejuvenation of the study of cartography, geography, astronomy, and many other related disciplines.

Voyagers in Renaissance Period and their explorations

The well known and eminent names from the Renaissance period in Europe are Marco Polo, Christopher Columbus, Vasco da Gama, Ferdinand Magellan, Amerigo Vespucci, Captain James Cook, and many others. They upheld the world through their venturesome explorations.

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The Age of Discovery 1340-1600. The world map is showing the sea routes of the ocean voyagers | Image Courtesy : The University of Texas at Austin, Historical Atlas by William R. Shepherd, 1911

Click here to view the world map in highest resolution

Marco Polo (1254–1324)

Marco Polo was an colossal explorer as well as traveller of  thirteenth century. By 1271 he started off his journey from Venice, city in northeastern Italy, and reached Hormuz by sailing across Black Sea  and then through Iran by land journey. From there he reached Sha-Chou, travelling through Badakhshan in Afghanistan and the main Silk Route.

Some time around 1290 to 1292, he started his journey from Chuan-Chu and sailed southward. Touching Vietnam and Sumatra, passing through the Nicobar Islands he reached Ceylon (present Sri Lanka). Following the western coast of India and the southern reaches of Persia, finally he reached Hormuz once again, and from there the expedition proceeded towards Khorasan, the Persian capital.

Lastly he departed from Khorasan, and passing through Tabriz and Constantinople, he returned to Venice, Italy in 1295.

Marco Polo wrote two books about his journey, entitled as ‘Book of Various Enterprises’ and ‘Il–Million’.

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Christopher Columbus (1451–1506)

Christopher Columbus was born at Genoa in Italy. The Italian explorer was famous know for his discovery of New World. While living in Lisbon with his elder brother Bartholomew, he travelled to Iceland, Madeira, and western coast of Africa in 1477, 1478, and 1483 respectively.

He started his first journey from Palos, Spain, on 3rd August, 1492. By sailing westward across the Atlantic Ocean he discovered an island and named it ‘San Salvador’ or West Indies. Then he came back to homeland.

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Columbus in San Salvador | Image Courtesy : Wikimedia

Columbus moved on his second ocean-voyage on 24th September, 1493, and reached Dominica and discovered many islands in Caribbean Sea. He returned to Spain in 1496.

Columbus set in his third voyage in 1498, adoption more southerly direction, and discovered Trinidad and the mouth of Orinoco river and called it ‘Dragon’s Mouth’.

He started his next and last voyage on 9th May, 1502, with a desire to discover a westward passage to Asia, but failed. Rather he discovered Honduras. Lastly he returned Spain in 1504.

Though he made a long expedition, it cannot be said that he discovered America. Because he himself believed that he had discovered a part of Asia.

Vasco da Gama (1460–1524)

In 1460, the famous Portuguese voyager Vasco da Gama was born in Sines, Portugal. He sailed for India in 1497 to discover the sea route by eastward. Crossing Cape Verde island, he moved south-west into an unknown section of South Atlantic Ocean. Then he rounded the Cape of Good Hope (southern extreme point of Africa) and sailed up following Africa's east coast. By travelling Mosamba he sailed across the Indian Ocean by eastward to reach the West Coast of India. After seven months of adventurous voyage, Vasco da Gama reached Calicut on 28th May in the year 1498.

Ferdinand Magellan (1480–1521)

The great Portuguese voyager Ferdinand Magellan was born at Sabrosa in Portugal, in the year 1480. He was the first voyager to find out the way to eastern and south-eastern Asia by sailing westward. He started off his expedition on 20th September 1519 from Seville, Spain. Travelling for one year through the eastern and south-eastern coast of South America, in 1520, he discovered the eastern entrance to the long desired strait near southern edge of South America, which was later named after his name as ‘Magellan Strait’. Thus sailing in the west through unknown Pacific Ocean, he reached the group of islands called Philippines, named after Philip II of Spain. But, as a tragic fate of his life, the greatest Portuguese explorer was killed in Philippines by a native king.

Amerigo Vespucci (1454–1512)

Amerigo Vespucci, a great Italian explorer, was born at Florence in Italy. He sailed from Europe and explored South Georgia, north-eastern Brazil, and other areas of New World. Later on, after his name, the ‘New World’ became known as America, perhaps because he was the first to step in the main land of New World.


Alongside these aforementioned great explorers, some other voyagers also made remarkable contribution to explore the world during Renaissance period. Such as, Captain James Cook sailed on for three ocean voyages. He explored New Zealand and the Great Coral Reef in 1768, determined the extent of Antarctica continent during 1772 to 1775, and the passage from North Pacific Ocean to Atlantic Ocean across the American continent in 1776 to 1780– in his three voyages respectively.

In other side, Dutch seafarer Tasman discovered the Tasmania island in the year 1649. British traveller Francis Drake moved on his voyage to cover the world in a circular sea route, during 1572. Thus many more renowned explorers made their bold move to discover continents and countries, during Renaissance period.


Other vivid inventions in Renaissance period

Exploration of different regions of the world was definitely a portly enterprise of Renaissance period. But, other discoveries and inventions also contributed to the enrichment of the discipline geography. These are mentioned in the following.
  • Cartographic knowledge was being developed to the new level. In 1569, Mercator invented his projection and named it as ‘Mercator’s Projection’ to draw the map of world.
  • Globe of the Earth was invented in some time during late sixteenth century.
  • In 1507, the finalized and modern map of world was prepared by Martin Waldseemuller, in which he showed the continent of America separately, rather than showing as a part of eastern Asia.
  • Geographic as well as scientific revolution in Europe was being continued by the postulation of ‘Heliocentric Theory of the Universe’ by Polish polymath Nicholus Copernicus, during 1497 to 1529.
  • Followed by Copernicus, Kepler once again proved the notion of elliptical path of planetary motion, in 1618. This idea was previously proposed by Arab scholar Al-Biruni (973–1039 A.D.).
  • Issac Newton invented the ‘Law of Gravitation’ in 1686.

Thus, the Age of Discovery or the Renaissance period, especially in European history, evinced numerous explorations, discoveries, inventions, as well as the revival of geographic and scientific knowledge. Although this evolution took place in the history of Europe, it had a profound and positive effect on the whole world.



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