Lighthouse of Cabo de São Vicente

Sagres, Portugal | C.1846

Photo Credit: Carlos Chaveiro

Imagine building a light to illuminate the end of the world. Up until the 14th century, many Europeans believed the Cabo de São Vicente to be just that – land’s end. As the most south-westerly point of mainland Europe, the views experienced at the Cape beckoned both sobering and inspiring reactions from those who witnessed them. And when the Lighthouse was built, it cast a promising light onto what might lay beyond the waters of the Atlantic.

A light has stood on this rocky promontory since as early as 1500, originally constructed as a means to protect the coast from marauders. And while some saw the Cape as land’s end, others saw it as the beginning of a great adventure – including explorers like Portugal’s Henry the Navigator. Henry spent many days on the Cape, likely near the lighthouse, where he planned voyages to explore Africa.

Despite the bright efforts of the first lighthouse, the Cape would eventually fall to none other than Sir Francis Drake, the English privateer who later earned fame as the first to circumnavigate the world in a single expedition.

In 1846, Portugal’s Queen Maria II commissioned the Lighthouse that still stands today. The Queen chose to build her new lighthouse on the ruins of a Fransiscan monastery on the Cape that had been destroyed in an earthquake. Once completed, the Lighthouse stood prominently among the ruins and operated off of an olive oil lamp.

Today, the Lighthouse of Cabo de São Vicente is considered one of the most powerful lights in Europe. Due to its location, the light has helped guide sailors traveling to and from the Americas – often serving as the first landfall seen from their treacherous journeys – and still guides major shipping routes to this day.

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