The Age of Discovery, also known as Age of Exploration, lasted from the early 15th to 17th centuries. This time is marked by Europe’s extensive exploration of the world by sea. These expeditions were partly driven by the sake of exploration but mostly to find new trade routes.
When the Ottoman Empire took control of Constantinople in 1453, European access to that area, North Africa and the Red Sea was blocked.¹ These were important trade routes so Europe needed to find new ones.
This period also saw advancements in cartography and navigation. Portable navigation devices such as compasses and sundials were a massive aid to travelers.¹
Filippo Brunelleschi, Albrecht Durer and Leonardo da Vinci were all influential thinkers during the time. These intellectuals also studied the human form extensively and created connections between sacred art and geography.¹
The typical poster boy for the Age of Discovery is the famous Genoese navigator Christopher Columbus. Columbus voyaged to the new world with funding from two Spanish monarchs.² He initially wanted to identify trade routes to Asia by sailing west but ended up discovering America in 1493. He shared this information with Spain and the rest of Europe.²
During this period, Pedro Alvares Cabral explored Brazil, creating conflict between Spain and Portugal in terms of newly claimed land. This led to the Treaty of Tordesillas, which officially divided the world in half in 1494.²
Other famous voyages during the Age of Exploration include the first English voyage around the world by Sir Francis Drake. There was Vasco de Gama’s voyage to India, which made the Portuguese the first Europeans to sail that country. Bartolomeu Dias discovered the Cape of Good Hope. Ferdinand Magellan’s voyage to find a route through the Americas to the east led to discovery of passage known as Strait of Magellan.¹
The need to search for new trade routes ended in the early 17th century with technological advancements making it easy for Europe to travel by sea across the world.