It is hard to think of Portugal apart from the Porto wine and maritime power. The country is renowned for being one of the oldest producers of wine in the world and is especially famous for its distinctive Porto wine. The term "Porto" (or port in English) has its origin in the city of Porto, from where Portuguese wine is exported. Although I am not a big wine drinker, I thoroughly savor the sweet and unique flavor of Porto wine presented to me by a Portuguese associate. With each inhalation of the wonderful aroma, a vision of a bright future comes to mind.
Portugal truly embodied the pioneer spirit during most of the 15th and 16th centuries. Under the leadership of Prince Henry the Navigator, Portugal's ships sailed around Africa, to India and to the Americas. It also sought to accomplish circumnavigating the world earlier than any other country.
Although the Italian Christopher Columbus discovered the New World in 1492 in the name of Spain, he was Portuguese-trained. He lived in Lisbon for several years and married a Portuguese woman, through whom he obtained navigation charts and sailing techniques from his father-in-law.
Prior to the discovery of the New World, Portuguese navigator Bartolomeu Dias (1450-1500) became the first European explorer to successfully sail around the southern coast of Africa, thereby opening the way for a sea route from Europe to Asia in 1488. His daring voyage enabled his compatriot Vasco da Gama to find a sea route to India 10 years later. Da Gama's discovery of the route to India contributed greatly to the age of global maritime power. Consequently, most scholars regard the geographical discoveries initiated by Portugal as a critical turning point in world history.
This year marks the 500th anniversary of another great feat undertaken by a Portuguese. Navigator Ferdinand Magellan (1480 - 1521) organized the Spanish expedition that circumnavigated the world and courageously commanded its fleet westward to the East Indies 1519-1521. The expedition was completed by Juan Sebastian Elcano from Spain in 1522.
Battling extreme sailing conditions such as fierce winds and high waves, Magellan nonetheless boldly led his crew across the Atlantic, through a perilous strait south of South America now named after him. With limited remaining rations, he continued to push westward over the vast Pacific Ocean until arriving in the Philippines on March 16, 1521.
On the island of Cebu, Magellan converted some natives to Christianity and forged ties with a local chief. However, Lapu-Lapu, a native chieftain of Mactan Island, refused to cooperate with Magellan. The conflict culminated in a skirmish between Magellan and Lapu-Lapu on April 17, 1521, and Magellan perished in the attack.
Although Magellan did not make it back to Spain, he is widely recognized as the first European to set foot in the Philippines and to achieve the first-ever circumnavigation of the Earth. Through it all, he exhibited bravery, Elcano was able to complete the journey in his name and honor.
Today, in the spot where he passed away in Cebu, stands a memorial shrine dedicated to the heroic efforts of Magellan. The journals kept of the voyage describe Magellan as looking back towards his men with concern as he himself was being struck by multiple indigenous warriors. On my recent trip to the Philippines, I had the honor of paying homage to Magellan at this shrine. Standing there and looking out to the sea, I could visualize and feel connected to the Portuguese explorers who were part of Portugal's golden age of discovery.
Ultimately, Portugal was the pioneer who opened up the sea trade between the East and West, including Korea, and we can see traces of its rich legacy to this day.
Choe Chong-dae (email@example.com) is a guest columnist of The Korea Times. He is president of Dae-kwang International Co., and director of the Korean-Swedish Association.