Geographical discoveries by Portugal, Spain, England & France

`DiscoveryGeographical discoveries

  • The period between 15th and 16th centuries is known as the Age of Discovery.

  • The new sea routes to the East as well as the discovery of new continents like the America radically transformed the course of history.

  • As early as the 13th century, Marco Polo of Italy discovered China.

Causes for the Geographical Discoveries

1.Capture of Constantinople

  • In 1453, the Ottoman Turks captured Constantinople and controlled European trade with the East.

  • They imposed heavy duties on the goods. On the other hand, the Arab traders continued their trade through the Coasts of India and got huge profits in spice trade.

  • Therefore, the Europeans were forced to find an alternative route to the East.

2.Renaissance spirit and the scientific discoveries

  • The art of ship-building developed along with the invention of Mariner’s Compass.

  • The astronomical and other scientific discoveries raised the hope of the adventurers to explore new sea routes.

3.Stories about Eastern countries

  • The travel accounts of Marco Polo and Nicolo Polo about China and India ignited great enthusiasm among the Europeans

  • A Merchants Handbook described all known trade routes between Europe and the Far East.

  • Similarly, the Secrets of the Faithful Crusader told about Asiatic cities.

4.Other factors

  • The spirit of adventure, desire for new lands and competition for exploration between European nations had also stimulated the explorers venturing into the seas.


  • Portuguese ruler Henry (1394-1460) generally known as “the Navigator”.

  • As a result of his efforts, the Madeira and Azores Islands were discovered.

  • His main project was the exploration of the West Coast of Africa.

  • Although Henry died in 1460, his zeal provided stimulus to the Portuguese for further explorations.

  • In 1487 Bartholomew Diaz reached the southern tip of Africa and called it “the Cape of Storms”.

  • Later it was renamed as “the Cape of Good Hope” because it provided hope that access to the Indian Ocean was possible.

  • Vasco da Gama successfully used this route and reached India in 1498.


Christopher Columbus, planned to discover a new sea route to the East by traveling westwards.

  • After securing monetary assistance from King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, he set sail on August 3, 1492 across the Atlantic.

  • After a long and difficult voyage he reached an island of the Bahamas on Oct 12, 1492.

  • He thought that he had reached the shores of India. Therefore, he called the natives of that island Indians.

  • He made 3 more voyages and explored the islands in the Caribbean Sea and Central America.

  • These islands are even today called as the West Indies.

  • Later in 1501, Amerigo Vespucci, an Italian navigator, with the support of the king of Spain explored the areas of South America. He came to the conclusion that what Columbus discovered was not India but a “New World”.

  • The new continent was named as America after Amerigo Vesupucci and Columbus is considered as the discoverer of America.


  • In 1497, John Cabot was sent by Henry VII of England to explore the seas.

  • He discovered the Newfoundland. In his next expedition, he reached North America and explored it.

  • But he was not able to find any people there and returned to England disappointed.

  • However, this voyage resulted in the claim of England to the mainland of North America.


  • In 1534, Jacques Cartier from France went to the North America and explored the region.

  • He found the Red Indian settlements and named that region as Canada.

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