There is no experience like seeing an ocean for the first time. It was early 2018 when, for the first time in my life, I had a chance to see its infinite beauty. While facing the power of nature, untamed and wild, one can feel something that the only right word to describe is an epiphany. Whether facing an endless ocean, a wild storm, or looking down at the world from the top of a cliff – all of this reminds us of how small we are, but also how we belong. To face the greatness of nature is to see that we are part of it, little particles in the infinite world.
However, the more I see the world, the fewer moments like this I have because it has already been seen, it has already been experienced. And while when I see the ocean again I have this feeling that I can breathe properly again, it never gives the same moment of sinking into the very meaning of the Universe as for the very first time.
Sagres, however, brought me this experience again.
This place gives a chance to immerse in the wilderness. The endless ocean, windswept soil with succulent, fragrant plants that can survive in this harsh environment, and ridges that fall down right into the raging waters of the Atlantic, remind how powerful nature is.
Even if the explorers might not feel that they belong, that they are just a part of this majestic spectacle of elements, the embrace of a cold wind reminds them that all is connected into one, spectacular wholeness.
Raging waters hit the cliffs that expose their dark rocks into view – raw, steep, and mostly unavailable for humans. Just here and there, a brave or unwise fisherman stands on the lower edges of the cliffs. While this view can freeze the blood of the observer, the smooth, easy moves they make create a feeling that they are not an extra to the cliff, but a part of it, accepted by the wild beauty.
It Ends with Horizon
While standing on the edge of the cliffs, I can imagine retracing the steps of people, who passed over them years and years before me. Were they fishermen that knew the ocean and a part of its secrets, or villagers that used to swim in the waters when the summer heat arrived? Without the knowledge that came with the time, that was the end of the world. A spectacular one. An aggressive one. A beautiful one.
Cliffs were in a way a border of the world: one that they knew, a safe one, even though very hard sometimes, and another one – beautiful, ethereal. The one that spread from the edge of the rocks towards the horizon, filled with monsters and the unknown. It ended, on the line that connected earth with heaven.
There is, however, something stronger than fear – a curiosity that pushes people to enter the dark room, without knowing what is there and despite believing what they could meet there.
It was 1419 when one of the first ships under the Portuguese flag entered the ocean to find new lands far to the south. Bartolomeu Dias reached the Cape of Good Hope under the sponsorship of the Portuguese prince Henry the Navigator. Even though Henry the Navigator never had a chance to become a king, nowadays he is one of the most recognizable personas of Portuguese history.
Fortaleza Sagres was a place from which Henry the Navigator managed expeditions to Africa and of which he was a founder. This most important figure of the Portuguese “golden era” also died in the fort.
The structure is a bit different from the classical buildings of this type. Located on the southern tip of Sagres, it protected the town from invasion. The great wall separates the tip from the mainland, and from the side of the ocean, there was no reason for extra protection – 60 meter cliffs were enough to stop invaders. But not a tsunami.
The year 1755 marked a tragic event in Portuguese history – an earthquake, followed by a tsunami destroyed many important places. The roaring waters of an angry ocean entered the capital of Lisbon, which was completely destroyed. They also didn’t miss Fort Sagres. Even though the Fortaleza was rebuilt afterwards, it never got back its importance.
The remains of the fort do not remind one of the greatest times of the building. It is overtaken by nature, and aside from the small chapel, there is not much to see architectonically. However, the southern tip on which the fort is located is a perfect place to admire the ocean from a different angle and to see how the line of the land dramatically changes in different spots of Sagres: from very high cliffs to more gentle slopes through which one can reach sandy beaches.
What Is a Start for Some, Is an End for Others
Discoveries made the world much bigger. For Portuguese explorers, the world had just started, but for some nations, it was over. The romantic idea of the great explorers who traveled the world is crumbling nowadays, when compiled with the history of the nations that suffered because of it.
There can’t be a doubt that the history of Portugal is strictly connected with the history of slavery. Portugal was the country that had the biggest input in slavery (trading, deporting, kidnapping) throughout all the nations.
Portugal was one of the first nations to turn against slavery. However, even after the abolition of slavery in the Portuguese Empire (200 years ago), the country had a huge repressive influence on native, indigenous cultures of many countries, including Brazil, Angola, Guinea-Bissau, and Mozambique.
This place used to be the end of the world for Portuguese people. Once it became bigger for locals, it was an end for many people, living their lives and cherishing their own cultures unbothered before the era of colonization. It is a hurting part of history, but one that should definitely be faced without romanticizing it.
The Light That Can Guide You Home
Saint Vincent’s Cape is the extreme western tip of the Portuguese Algarve region. It’s a great place to immerse in the area’s wild beauty. The lighthouse situated on the top of the cliff is hard to miss.
The story of the place reaches 1894 when it was built to commemorate five centuries since the birth of Henry the Navigator. However, in 1958 it was demolished, and a new lighthouse was built in its place. A simple, concrete structure is an example of the style of the Estado Novo – the regime state in Portugal.
Even now, the lighthouse sends a red beam of light to guide ships home safely and to avoid the sharp edges of Sagres’ cliffs.
A Great Holiday Spot
Sagres gives not only a lesson of history and reminds us of the power of nature, but is a wonderful spot to enjoy the day, with all those things in the background. Hiking along cliffside trails, taking a ride, or surfing are some of the many activities one can enjoy in such a stunning area. While near Cabo de Sao Vicente it’s hard to imagine the rawness of the cliffs ever ending, there are a few beaches easily accessible by foot, so before you come here, make sure you have everything from your packing list for a beach vacation.
Sagres is a wonderful traveling destination for those who want to connect with nature and immerse in self-reflection. You can spend an active time here, with water sports and even without putting your toes into the water. It is also a place where you can meet Portuguese customs and engage in local culture, exploring, for example, the tradition of ceramic. All of this, with breathtaking views.
Thanks to its remote location, Sagres is not packed with tourists in comparison to other places in Algarve. However, it is a hot spot for surfers.
Visiting Sagres is much more than just a day trip to a beautiful place.
The edge of the cliffs, which makes you shiver from fear and shake from the excitement of experiencing the plain beauty, is a place full of social and historical meaning. A beautiful summer destination which is a spot for reflection on the past and the future, but also a site where one can submerge into the present moment, connecting with nature.
Image credit: all images belong to Anna Zielazny