1. Ferdinand Magellan
He was the first Portuguese explorer to set out on an expedition to the East Indies from 1519 to 1522, as well as the first one to circumnavigate the Earth. Born in 1480 and raised in a wealthy Portuguese family, he quickly became a skillful sailor and navigator. Soon, he was handpicked by King Charles I of Spain to lead the naval fleet in search of a westward passage to the Maluku Islands, also known as the Spice Islands. The fleet of five vessels sailed south through the Atlantic Ocean to Patagonia, passing through what we now know as the Strait of Magellan. Then the expedition crossed the „peaceful sea”, presently known under the name „The Pacific Ocean”. Despite unfavorable weather conditions and on-board riots, the expedition reached the Maluku Islands in 1521. Ferdinand Magellan was killed during the Battle of Mactan in the Philippines in the same year.
2. Christopher Columbus
It has always been up for debate weather Christopher Columbus’s nationality was Spanish or Portuguese, but nowadays historians are inclining more and more towards Italian. He lived in Portugal for quite a while, and therefore is included in our list. Between 1492 and 1503, he managed to complete four voyages, all of them starting off the coast of Spain and towards the North and South America. His endeavors were founded by the Crown of Castile. He famously discovered North America in 1492, whilst being convinced that he had actually reached the shores of India. Columbus’s voyages notably mark the onset of European exploration of the world, but also of its colonization.
3. Vasco da Gama
Vasco da Gama was the first European explorer to ever reach the actual India by sea route, which he accomplished during his first voyage, from 1497 to 1499. This discovery was a very important one because it opened up the possibilities of trade, as well as established a long-term colonial empire in India, relying on its resources. Da Gama arrived in Calicut on 20 May 1498. The Portuguese Crown was so impressed that soon after his accomplishment he was awarded the prestigious title of 1st Count of Vidigueira. Vasco da Gama died of malaria on his third journey to India. During his travels he also sailed to Africa, passing through Cape Verde, Mozambique and Mombasa on the way.
4. Bartholomeu Dias
Bartholomeu Dias has gone down in history as the first European to sail around the southernmost tip of Africa. He completed this journey in 1488, sailing all the way up to the waters of the Indian Ocean from the Atlantic Ocean. Dias was appointed a Knight at the Portuguese royal court. He also was made superintendent of the royal warehouses and a sailing-master. On 10 October 1487 he was appointed head of the African expedition by King John II himself. He was also entrusted with finding the mythical figure of Prester John, who was a priest rumored to have established a small community overseas.
5. Gaspar and Miguel Corte Real
They were two sons of João Vaz Corte-Real, also a sailor and explorer, who was said to have discovered a land called Terra Nova do Bacalhau (New Land of the Codfish). Scientists nowadays think that this may have referred to a part of North America. Gaspar and Miguel continued the tradition. Miguel charted about 600 miles of the coast of Labrador, whereas Gaspar was sent in search for a Northwest Passage to Asia by King Manuel I of Portugal. The two brothers also shared a common voyage. This was the voyage to Greenland in 1501. Gaspar Corte-Real was never to be heard from again after 1501, and Miguel went missing as well after launching a search party for his brother, a year later. (Gaspar Corte Real in the picture)