Geography: Chronology

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1350 - 1600: Geography: Chronology




  • Portuguese sailors begin to chart the coastlines of the Canary Islands 823 miles off the northwest coast of Africa. In ancient times the Canaries were called the “Fortunate Islands” and were believed to be the western limit of the world. Arab, Portuguese, and French mariners had visited the islands in the Middle Ages.



  • Claudius Ptolemy's Geography, a second-century C.E. book, is translated into Latin. Scholars discover that Ptolemy had used a system of latitude and longitude in his maps.


  • The Madeira Islands, off the coast of Morocco, are officially discovered by the Portuguese explorer Joao Goncalves Zarco. This island group was possibly known in ancient times and probably had been visited by Genoese sailors in the mid 1300s.


  • Prince Henry of Portugal, more commonly known as Prince Henry the Navigator, becomes governor of the Algarve, the southernmost province of Portugal. There he attracts a following of astronomers, cartographers, instrument makers, seamen, and shipwrights. The next year he begins to sponsor expeditions down the coast of western Africa, searching for the southerly route to India.


  • The Portuguese sailor Diego de Sevilha lands in the Azores, a group of islands in the North Atlantic about eight hundred miles off the coast of Portugal. Although the exact date of discovery is uncertain, the Azores were known to European sailors in the fourteenth century.


  • The Cape Verde Islands in the North Atlantic are discovered by Ca'da Mosto, a Venetian navigator in the service of Prince Henry of Portugal.


  • Prince Henry the Navigator dies. During his lifetime the expeditions he sent along the African coast reached as far south as present-day Sierra Leone, although some evidence suggests his ships reached the Ivory Coast, approximately four hundred miles beyond.


  • The Portuguese begin to settle the Cape Verde Islands.


  • The first European edition of Ptolemy's Geography is printed.


  • The Canary Islands become a Spanish possession.


  • Under provisions of the Treaty of Alcatçovas, the Azores are assigned to Portugal.


  • Trade develops between the African kingdom of the Congo and Portugal.


  • Martin Behaim voyages down the west coast of Africa with Diogo Cao.



  • Behaim constructs a terrestrial globe for the city of Nuremberg, Germany. It is the oldest surviving terrestrial globe, and its creator shares the same geographical ideas as Christopher Columbus about the distance to the Indies. However, Behaim's depiction of the world is inaccurate, especially in relation to the African coast.
  • Columbus sails to San Salvador on his first voyage to the Americas.


  • In an attempt to avoid conflicts over newly discovered lands, Spanish-born Pope Alexander VI declares a line of demarcation 100 leagues (about 320 miles) west of the Cape Verde Islands. All territory west of the line belongs to Spain, while the lands to the east are given to Portugal.


  • After protests from John II of Portugal, Spanish, and Portuguese delegates revise the papal division of the previous year. The Treaty of Tordesillas moves the boundary between the two countries' territorial claims 370 leagues (1,185 miles) west of the Cape Verde Islands. Pope Julius II does not approve the change until 1506.


  • John Cabot, an Italian in the service of King Henry VII of England, sails from Bristol in the Matthew. Searching for a route to India, he lands after fifty-two days at a spot variously identified as Labrador, Newfoundland, or Cape Breton Island. He makes a second voyage the next year but is lost at sea.
  • The Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama begins a two-year voyage during which he sails around the Cape of Good Hope and trades on the Malabar Coast of India.


  • The Italian merchant Amerigo Vespucci acts as the navigator for four Spanish ships under the command of Alonso de Ojeda. The yearlong expedition sails along the coast of South America and discovers the mouth of the Amazon River.



  • Under Portuguese auspices Vespucci embarks on a second expedition and sails along the coast of Brazil, concluding that Columbus had discovered a new continent. He returns to Lisbon in 1502.



  • German cartographer Martin Waldseemuller issues the Cosmographie Introductio. He uses Vespucci's name to designate the New World.


  • Vespucci becomes piloto mayor (master navigator) in Seville, a position he holds until his death in 1512. As master navigator, he examines pilots' and shipmasters' licenses for all voyages and prepares a royal map of newly discovered lands.



  • The first printed edition of Ptolemy's Almagest appears in Europe. It describes a universe in which the Sun and planets all revolve around Earth.


  • The Spanish Crown authorizes the importation of African slaves to its New World colonies.


  • The Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés arrives in Mexico and conquers the Aztecs, killing their king, Montezuma, and destroying Tenochtitlán (present-day Mexico City). Over the next thirty years Spanish authority expands throughout Central and South America. Meanwhile, smallpox begins to decimate the natives of the region.
  • The Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan leaves Spain with five ships in an attempt to reach the Spice Islands (Moluccas) by sailing westward. Although Magellan is killed in the Philippines, one of his ships returns to Spain in 1522 after circumnavigating the globe.




  • The Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro conquers the Incan capital of Cuzco and secures a large quantity of gold. Two years later he establishes the city of Lima, Peru.
  • Peter Apian's Cosmographia explains how triangulation (a trigonometric method for finding a location between two fixed points a known distance apart) could be used to accurately create land maps.


  • The Frenchman Jacques Cartier explores the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The next year he sails up the river as far as present-day Montreal. He names the nearby rapids La Chine because he believes that he has reached China.


  • Gerardus Mercator, a Flemish cartographer, draws a world map with a heart-shaped design. He uses this pattern in order to take into account that he is projecting a globe onto a flat surface. In 1569 he perfects this type of map, which becomes known as the Mercator Projection Map.


  • Portuguese ships arrive in Japan, marking the first time that Europeans had visited the islands. A Spanish expedition arrives in 1587.


  • Lima becomes the capital of the viceroyalty of Peru.


  • The Spanish discover a lode of silver at Potosi in present-day Bolivia.


  • The Flemish engraver and cartographer Abraham Ortelius, an associate of Mercator, compiles maps of the world on a heart-shaped projection. He draws one of Egypt in 1565 and Asia in 1567.


  • Ortelius's Theatrum orbis terrarum (Epitome of the Theater of the Worlde) is published and quickly becomes the most popular atlas of its time.


  • The Spanish conquer the Philippine Islands.


  • Ortelius is appointed royal cosmographer to King Philip II of Spain.


  • Michel Eyquem de Montaigne's Travel Journey describes inns and dining habits in Italy, Germany, and Switzerland.



  • The British establish the East India Company to regulate trading factories in the Indian subcontinent.

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Geography: Chronology

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