Ιn the Footsteps of the Old Explorers, Barbara Athanassiadis
A dive in the Great Age of exploration is certainly a dive in the oceans which in the 15th century were unknown and cartography incomplete. Part 1
What did those first explorers need besides the caravels, the compasses and the astrolabes? It was the courage, the passion for adventure, the lust for lucrative trade and, above all, a deep sense of curiosity. With this thought, I began my journey on the trail of those explorers, where courage and the sense of adventure weren’t needed so much, since in HARMONY V with all her comforts, I certainly wasn’t sailing in a windswept caravel. However, my deep curiosity about what seafarers would had seen and felt in the 15th century was my compass and every movement of its needle filled me with an unprecedented thrill.
The pioneer country of the exploration was Portugal, followed by Spain. So, one morning at the end of October I found myself in Lisbon, delighted by the narrative of a long-time friend, Ioannis Metaxas, Ambassador of Greece to Portugal. Step by step I started to discover with my own eyes the places that once made Lisbon the wealthiest city in Europe when the caravels entered its port loaded with exotic goods from the East, especially spices; and with its rapidly acquired gold, the churches, the palaces and the monasteries of the country were adorned. The Belém district on the banks of the Tagus River was part of my exploration, before my cruise on the coast would start, where Mrs. Margarita Adamos, Counselor at the Embassy of Greece was so gracious to accompany me, and with her profound knowledge to show me details that I have never imagined.
The Tower of Belém was erected in the 16th century on the river bank as a symbol of the Great Age of Exploration. An amalgam of styles: Gothic structure, a Renaissance loggia in the inner courtyard and Moorish watchtowers above the water, all decorated in Manueline-style motifs such as nautical ropes, little caravels and armillary spheres. The Tower was also used as a fort to prevent enemies from entering the Tagus; but with my enchanted eyes, I saw the opposite direction, that is, the mouth of the river to the Atlantic Ocean which I presume the first explorers would have watched, enchanted too. An infinite ocean, full of mystery - was there an end to this aquatic spectacle? Τhe news of Christopher Columbus of the discovery of the Americas spread out all over Europe as a thunderbolt. More astonished was the King of Portugal. Anxious that the Spaniards would take the lead in exploring maritime routes, and therefore lucrative trade, he sent off to the coast of West Africa the 28-year-old Vasco da Gama to find the coveted seaway to the Indian Ocean, which was not sure even existed. So, the highly knowledgeable Mrs. Adamos made a leap into History and with her fascinating narrative, she took me straight to the tomb of the great explorer in the Monastery of Jerónimos, leaving me to discover his voyage to the Indian Ocean in the next cruise organized by Variety Cruises. I confess that the tomb of Vasco da Gama made me silent for a few moments, all decorated in Manueline-style ornamentation after King Manuel I that, as I wrote, three were its most significant features: the nautical ropes, the little caravel and the armillary sphere.
Leaving behind us the impressive monastery, the most beautiful I have seen in Europe, a pilgrimage to the Monument to the Discoveries, Padrâo dos Descrobrimentos, was a must. The white plaster group of thirty three figures representing the great men of the Age of Discovery looking straight ahead and standing on the prow of a caravel was the introduction to the sea route I would follow on the cruise: “The Glories of Portugal and Spain”, which for me was not only a delight to the eyes, but a shake-up of my mind and soul, as I suppose, it would have been, or rather felt by the first explorers. The Belém district on the banks of the Tagus River was part of my exploration, before my cruise on the coast would start, where Mrs. Margarita Adamos, Counselor at the Embassy of Greece was so gracious to accompany me, and with her profound knowledge to show me details that I have never imagined.
At the hotel, a refreshing cocktail and delicious finger food awaited me. There, I met the hostess of HARMONY V, Isabella Morales, who would be our guardian angel during the eight-day cruise with her melodious voice and sophisticated humour. At the lounge, I was introduced to my fellow travellers who were no more than ten. Three charming English ladies, whom if Somerset Maugham would have met, he would have written an awesome short story; a delightful young couple from London; a second charming couple from California; and lovely Susan with her daughter Karen, also from the U.S.A., with whom I was warmly attached.
On the route to Algarve
And there we were in the mini-van towards Algarve, a three-and-a-half-hour route to South Portugal, where the clouds, coming from the Atlantic Ocean, gathered to create a sky of incredible beauty of pink and violet hues as the sun was setting. On the way, we rarely saw a house. Only areas with olive, cork and orange trees, all planted on rolling hills. The serenity of the scenery was all I needed to rest my eyes after my morning walk to the remarkable monuments of Lisbon. Entering Algarve, the landscape changed, and peaceful villages began to appear with whitewashed houses, windows framed with intense colours and Moorish-style chimneys, all so typical of the Portuguese countryside. Αrriving in Portimâo, the tourist resort where HARMONY V was anchored, my mind galloped a few miles to the West on the steep cliffs at the edge of the coast, the ultimate point of Europe. There, the waves of the ocean break with such force and the landscape looks wild.
It was at Cap Sagres where Prince Henry the Navigator, the son of the King of Portugal, was isolated and laid the foundation of the great exploration and eventually the grandeur of his country. Ηe gathered astronomers, cartographers and mathematicians from all over Europe, while in the neighbouring bay he built a shipyard to build ships and send them to conquer the oceans. As I said, Portugal did the beginning. Τhese thoughts took me off to a different world where History blended with my imagination and made me feel wonderfully excited. Finally, at the mouth of the serene Arade river, we saw HARMONY V awaiting for us with her twenty-five cabins and the crew to welcome us at the Cruise Terminal and pick up our luggage. When we embarked, we met Captain Andreas and the rest of the crew whose courtesy and impeccable service would accompany us during the cruise. We also met our fellow travellers arriving from the U.S.A., lovers of European culture and ready to absorb its beauty.
by Barbara Athanassiadis, a travel writer
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The ancient capital of Moorish Algarve, Barbara Athanassiadis
A dive in the Great Age of exploration is certainly a dive in the oceans which in the 15th century were unknown and cartography incomplete. Part 2