est.reading time: 8 min
A visionary. Our most audacious entrepreneur.
Henrique, a son, brother and nephew of kings, became a vigorous entrepreneur with regard to the Portuguese maritime expansion. He idealized it and surrounded himself with the right people to see this personal project through. It is widely accepted that he was one of the mentors of the start of globalization, namely of commerce, as we know it.
(Oh and, in case you're wondering: the Portuguese word 'infante' means prince and not 'young child')
In this post we will discuss the prince's businesses, his motivations and his close connection to Porto!
Henrique's statue pointing the direction of the Atlantic ocean.
Same direction we lead this cheerful group of Israeli runners to run-explore Porto.
A Royal businessman
During his long life (1394-1460), driven by his wish to expand commerce and the Christian faith, Henrique started a few highly profitable enterprises:
Undoubtedly, his most famous venture was the Lagos-based nautical academy, widely (and mistakenly!) known as 'Sagres school' - the quiet Lagos' bay in Algarve served as the perfect setting for the development of knowledge and sailing instruments and was also a strategic departing location for his numerous expeditions of exploration and colonization along the African coast and the Atlantic islands.
In addition, from Northern Africa and for a short while, Henrique commanded a group of privateers in the Mediterranean Sea, commissioned by the Portuguese crown; later he also benefited from the onset of African slave trade; for most of his life, he ruled the military-religious order of Christ, direct heir to the Knights Templar - and it was the access to the order's deep pockets that enabled the funding of his expeditions.
Quite a long story, hard to sum up. But making long stories short is pretty much what tour guides do for a living, isn't it?
Let's take it from the top, shall we?
It all started in Porto, on Valentines' day, 1387.
Porto wasn't in fact the place where the Infante dreamed of expanding Portugal's trade or even where he perfected the design of his caravels, nor did he establish his naval base in this city...
Dom Henrique's connection with Porto was strong indeed, but of a different nature: that of birth.
The prince was born here in 1394 into the royal family, to a Portuguese father (king Joao I) and to an English mother (Phillipa of Lancaster).
Henrique, or Henry, was named after his uncle, Phillipa's brother, who would later usurp the throne of England, hence becoming Henry IV.
Yet, we can say it all began when Henrique's parents' relationship was sealed in Porto's cathedral, a few years earlier, on February 14th, 1387: a military alliance dressed as royal marriage (read more).
As unromantic as that may have sounded, their stability as a couple and their offspring - Henrique and his brothers - were definitely instrumental in kickstarting Portugal's 'age of Discoveries'!
The mesmerizing S.Bento train station's entrance hall contains a great deal of tile panels depicting episodes of the Portuguese history. One of them illustrates Joao I and Phillipa's weeding parade, here being described to Eugenia, an Argentinian runner .
Where was Henrique born, exactly?
There is no absolute certainty... However, it is widely accepted that the building, now called 'Casa do Infante', might have been the one.
In the late 1300's this was the most important house in the city, after that of the Bishop: Casa do Infante was the Almoxarife's residence - a supervisor of custom's services and the high representative of the king in Porto.
Archeological excavations revealed that the house had also been a private Roman palace - around 1000 years before (4th century).
âLate 14th century it housed the Royal Mint and the Customs - enabling tax collection on the thriving trade carried out at the river front, just a few meters away.
Several documents point to an extended stay of the royal family in this house, including a list of expenses concerning Henrique's christening celebrations. The royal court -including a good number of English staff- stayed in the city for 9 months, in 1394, having arrived at the end of February, with Phillipa of Lancaster already at the end of her pregnancy - baby Henrique was born on the 4th of March.
Casa do Infante is now an extension of the city's museum and the Historical archive. In the photos, British runner Ucheora during a short stop of her running tour in Casa do Infante's central pateo.
The secret project that led to an unusual epithet: Tripeiros
20 year-old Henrique returned to Porto with a top secret mission. To complete his mission he would have to oversee the building of ships along the riverbanks of Porto but also hire soldiers and crew.
A large scale armada was being prepared and only Henrique, his father and a few other elements of the royal court knew what city or country they would be targeting.
A few months later, the vessels were almost ready.
Infante D. Henrique himself would go and check the progress of the work at the shipyards. He asked everyone involved for more commitment and sacrifice. Portuenses were asked to provide supplies, which meant 'almost everything' they had in the city, offering all the clean meat to those departing to the secret destination... Porto was left with only the guts of the animals.
When hunger came, they created a simple and very poor dish, consisting mostly of tripe and beans.
This is what earned the Portuenses the nickname "tripeiros" (tripe eaters), which they still use, in a proud manner.
This small statue in Jardim do Calem helps us with telling the tale - would you run with us there?
Henrique's first military test
The ships built in Porto joined others, from the Lisbon's shipyards and also those from hired privateers. Once assembled, the fleet sailed south. It was only after the stopover in Tavira, Algarve, that the attack plans were revealed: the target was Ceuta.
In the early 1400s the prospect of taking Ceuta offered the Portuguese younger nobility an opportunity for wealth and glory. And they went for it!
Ceuta's position in northern Africa, across from Gibraltar, was as natural magnet for trans-saharan caravans. Ceuta had become one of the main outlets of spices and Sudanese gold and a strategic entrepot for a wide range of many other goods.
An impressive Portuguese fleet, of 200 ships, captained by king Joao left the Algarve to carry out the conquest of the African city.
45.000 men landed in Ceuta in the morning (August 21, 1415) catching its defenders off guard. By nightfall, after heavy looting, the town was entirely under Portuguese control.
A few years later, Portugal came to the realisation that this new colony had become not a source but in fact a drain for money: most caravans had re-routed and were now journeying to Tangier, west of Ceuta. Still, this was merely the start of European colonialism.
Henrique distinguished himself in the battle, being wounded during the fightings. In the aftermath of the conquest he and the other participant princes were appointed knights and granted additional noble titles by his own father.
The battle for Ceuta is another of the scenes painted in S.Bento train station's tile panels.
Henrique and the order of Christ
The Order of Christ was a powerful and influential institution, endowed with important assets and many income sources, direct heir to the Knights Templar, the extinguished military order of the Crusades.
One century after its foundation, in 1420, the Catholic Pope in Rome declared the Infante as sole administrator of all its resources in Portugal, which he was to apply in the defense of the recently conquered mediterranean port city of Ceuta.
From then on, the order of Christ's symbol, a very elegant red cross, ornamented all sails of every Portuguese ship (most were 'caravelas') that sailed out from Lagos, Algarve - Henrique's naval base location- to explore the seas on his behalf.
Henrique's naval base in Algarve and his plans for expansion
After the 1415's successful battle in Ceuta , Henrique started a project of his own.
Convinced that it would be possible to access the riches of the East in another way (since the land trade routes to Ceuta had changed with the not so friendly arrival of the Portuguese), he began the exploration of the African coast and a quest for a hypothetical alternative route.
This is how the Portuguese maritime expansion had its genesis.
Henrique established a base in Lagos, in southern Portugal. Every year, from the bay of Lagos he would launch small maritime expeditions. From 1420 to 1432, cyclically, a small fleet of ships would leave for the South, sailing along the African coast.
Many times a day the historic tramcar heads towards the Infante square and passes by Massarelos' church, where Henrique and the Lagos' team of sailors and scholars were immortalized in a panel of traditional white and blue tiles.
Expanding the boundaries of the known world
Before Henrique's time, Cape Bojador was the southern-most point known to Europeans on the desert coast of Africa. Superstitious seafarers held that beyond the cape would lay sea monsters and possibly... the very edge of the world...!
In 1434, Gil Eanes, the commander of one of Henrique's expeditions, became the first European known to pass Cape Bojador, paving the way for others, like Vasco da Gama and Christopher Columbus who sailed much further, South, East and West, reaping the benefits of Henrique's endeavors.
Porto pays tribute to Henrique in many different ways
The Infante Dom Henrique bridge, aka Ponte do Infante, is a road bridge over the Douro River in Portugal. It is the most recent bridge connecting Porto to its neighbor city, Vila Nova de Gaia. It was built to absorb all the traffic that went on the upper deck of the Luis I Bridge, prior to its conversion into a Metro line and passage for pedestrians.
âThis is just one of many public infrastructures and private buildings which have been named after THE most famous of Portuguese princes.
Samir about to run on the elegant 'Ponte do Infante', as part of his Heart of Porto running tour (XL version).
It can be somewhat interesting to retrace this european entrepreneur- late medieval character- life's path:
Half-English, born in Porto, only a few meters from the bustling Douro River, in the North of the country, later becoming the person who idealized the maritime expansion, over 600 years ago, and who then decided to isolate himself, spending his last years at the southwest tip of the country - and the European continent(!) - in a small lonely villa near the town of Sagres, not far from the edge of St.Vicent's cape (S.Vicente) .
Sagres' fort was built only a few meters away from Henrique's last residence and Cape S. Vicente, the southernmost tip of Europe.
How to become a modern day -urban- explorer?
Here's a simple tip:
Start with a running tour.
One of the best ways to kickstart a visit to a new city, learning the basics of culture and history and getting some exercise done, at the same time - just meet the local guide and join her/him for a run. These tours will provide you with basic knowledge so that you can delve deeper in whatever topic you have interest, later during your stay. A perfect healthy way to start your own journey of exploration!
Here at Porto Running Tours, right from day zero of this micro-project, we advocate for sustainable, low environment impact, zero emission, non-motorized urban tourism. There's enough vehicles in any city as it is. That is why we've been conducting tours especially designed for runners since 2015 in the city of Porto.
That is also why we're happy to have been accepted within a community of indie running tour providers called Running Tours Net, where we have the possibility to discuss best practices and share ideas on how to provide the best possible experience to all visiting runners.
Running Tours Net was created in the Netherlands by Raoul Spronken, a keen runner who curates a directory of local guides who happen to be very knowledgeable and deeply passionate about running and the cities they call home.
Be sure to check this website the next time you're planning a city break or attending a conference in a new city:
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Sérgio é o fundador da Porto Running Tours, corre regularmente desde 1999 e desde 2015 que guia visitas em corrida na Invicta enquanto revela algumas das suas mais fascinantes histórias.
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