Silk Road Trade & Travel Encyclopedia

Interesting Facts & Trivia

5 - QUESTION:   What European leader was responsible for enabling improved designs and better guidance for ships?

Answer:  Henry "the Navigator"

Henry "the Navigator" was a prince of the Kingdom of Portugal and an important figure in the early days of the Portuguese Empire. He was responsible for the early development of European exploration and maritime trade with other continents. He sponsored expeditions of discovery in the Atlantic Ocean, and down the western coast of Africa. Prince Henry never actually sailed on any of the voyages of discovery he sponsored. Instead, he established a school for the study of the arts of navigation, mapmaking, and shipbuilding, which enabled improved designs and better guidance for ships. Prince Henry's goal was to find a route to the rich spice trade of the Indies, while exploring the west coast of Africa. The ships that sailed the Mediterranean were slow and too heavy to make these voyages. Under his direction, a new and lighter ship was developed, the caravel, which allowed sea captains to sail further and faster. After the development of the lateen-rigged caravel, it was the Portuguese who led the way of maritime expansion as Europeans sought alternative routes to Asia.

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