Holy promontory!

Compass rose and sun dial at Sagres point.

If you’ve ever been to Portugal you might have noticed a beer called Sagres. Well, there’s also a place called Sagres, in the Algarve.

Apparently the name Sagres comes from the Latin Promontorium Sacrum (holy promontory) and it seems that the area where today you can find Sagres and the Cape St. Vincent (Cabo de São Vicente, the southwesternmost point in Portugal) was considered sacred from the times of the Neolithic and Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians and Romans worshiped their gods there. Strabo mentions that nobody was allowed to spend the night in the area because it was believed that the gods would gather there at night. There may have existed a temple to Baʿal Hammon, in the area, but there are no certainties today.

Fast forward some centuries and it is said that in the 15th century Henry the Navigator created a School of Navigation… well, maybe! There’s no remaining building that could have been used as a “school”, so the doubt is basically this: did the school actually exist but crumbled to bits with the 1755 earthquake or did Henry manage to gather, in Sagres, a group of map-makers and navigators to study the possibilities for Portuguese exploration?

There is, however, a 16th century fortress in Sagres, which is undergoing some renovations. Today I bring you one of the highlights of the place: the compass rose. When was it built? Again… No certainties today!


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