Today there are few corners of the world “undiscovered” thanks to the plethora of modern innovations. However, at one time it was not this way. People rarely stepped outside of the world and the geographical boundaries they knew. Before the era of famous explorers who made it possible to imagine life outside of the provincial world they knew, people would gaze out onto the vast stretches of ocean and wonder what was on the other side. Although it’s hard to think of Portugal as being the “ends of the earth,” at one time it was considered just that, at least for occidental Europe. It was Portugal that led the way in the Age of Discovery. Vasco de Gama was the commander of the first ships to sail directly from Europe to India, thus allowing Portugal to establish a long-lasting colonial empire in Asia. Henry the Navigator (third child of King John I of Portugal) is credited with the early development of European exploration and maritime trade with other continents. While he himself never went on the explorations, the discovery of the Cape Verde and the Madeira Islands, and the realization that Africa could be circumnavigated when Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias reached the southern tip of the African continent, now known as the Cape of Good Hope, were all carried out under the patronage of Prince Henry.
When I first read about Cabo da Roca (Cape Roca) and its designation as the most western point in occidental Europe, I knew that I wanted to visit. While undoubtablty there are many more historically rich and striking attractions to visit in the greater Lisbon area, I have a thing for sites that can boast a unique or sometimes quirky claim to fame. Luckily, our bed and breakfast was only a short distance away by a local bus.
As part of the ancient Roman province of Lusitania which today is modern Portugal, the Romans called Cabo da Roca Promontorium Magnum (promontorium in Latin means “cape” and magnum means grand). During the Age of Sail (an era when ships were the main form of transportation) it was known as the Rock of Lisbon. A monument there describes Cabo da Roca as the westernmost extent of continental Europe and is described with the words of Portugal’s renowned poet Luis de Camoes, “onde a terrase acaba e o mar comeca” (where the land ends and the sea begins). The land truly does end there. One look at the steep drop-off of land, the crashing waves, and the vast endless ocean before you, I can see how long before the dawn of exploration, it was considered the end of the world.