In ancient times, the edge of the world was the southwestern tip of mainland Europe, Cape Saint Vincent in the western Algarve region of Portugal.
Several civilizations reached the cape, including the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, and Greeks. The Romans called it Promontorium Sacrum (Holy Promontory). From the cliffs, they watched the sun set into the sea, marking the extremity of the world as they knew it.
How did a small village outside of Lisbon became a magnet for whimsy and extravagance?
The town of Sintra, sprawling just below the tops of the mountains of the same name, is studded with outlandish palaces, fairytale castles, even a toy museum, each with an intriguing story.
Perhaps the area’s ancient occultism influenced the designers of its many elaborate residences.
Stone Age settlers were first attracted to the valley because of its lushness. It receives more rainfall than the surrounding area and is often shrouded in mist. The landscape was called the Mountains of the Moon by the Romans. Byron called the area “a glorious Eden.”
In elementary school we studied the great European explorers of the 1400s and 1500s. Christopher Columbus, for one. This period is called the Age of Discovery, a time when European royalty sought profitable new trade routes.
The Portuguese, due to several navigational advancements and their strategic location between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, led the way.
Bartolomeu Dias was the first European to sail around Africa’s sourthern tip in 1488. Vasco da Gama sailed around Africa to India in 1497. Pedro Álvares Cabral “discovered” Brazil in 1500. And Ferdinand Magellan was the first European to sail across the Pacific Ocean in 1520. His expedition was also the first to circumnavigate the world.