The age of discovery marked the passing of feudalism of the Middle Ages to the Modern Age, with the rise of European nation states. During this process, Europeans encountered and documented peoples and lands never before seen. Together with the Renaissance and the rise of humanism, was a major factor to the onset of modernity, stimulating scientific and intellectual inquiry.
Among the most famous explorers of this period stand out Christopher Columbus (the discovery of America), Vasco da Gama (the sea route to India), Pedro Alvares Cabral (Brazil).
In the Middle Ages, between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries, the Europeans had remote knowledge about the Asian continent, coming from partial reports, often obscured by legends, although the ages of the holdings of Alexander the Great and his successors. The African continent was known partially, not knowing your limits to the south, or even if there was such a limit, there are only reports of great African kingdoms beyond the Sahara, the actual knowledge of the European Mediterranean coasts and little else, since Arab blockade did not allow more in-depth explorations.
The prelude to the Age of Exploration was a series of expeditions that crossed Eurasia by land in the Middle Ages. Although the Mongols had threatened Europe with pillage and destruction, Mongol states also unified much of Eurasia. A series of Europeans took the opportunity to explore the East.
The first of these travelers was Giovanni da Pian del Carpine, who traveled to Mongolia and back between 1241-1247. The most famous traveler, however, was the Venetian Marco Polo, who in his book "Travels" reported their journeys throughout Asia from 1271 to 1295.
These trips not had little immediate effect: the Mongol Empire collapsed almost as soon as he graduated causing routes to the East became much more difficult and dangerous. The epidemic of plague fourteenth century also blocked travel and trade. And the aggressive and expansionist rise of the Ottoman Empire, which in 1453 was to capture Constantinople, further limited the land routes to Asia.
In 1415, Ceuta was occupied by the Portuguese aiming to control navigation in the northern African coast, event generally agreed upon as the beginning of Portuguese expansion. The young infant Prince Henry, who participated in the conquest, then took knowledge of how to profit from trans - Saharan trade routes. In 1422, after successive trips, not the cable, considered the waterway to the south by Arab and European limit is exceeded, reaching the Boyador and in 1473, Lopo Gonçalves, discovered the Cape Lopez, the mouth of the river and is credited Ogooué as the first to cross the equator. But only in 1487 that Bartolomeo Dias rounded Cape of Storms, Cape of Good Hope future, crowning 50 years of effort and numerous expeditions, entering for the first time in the Indian Ocean.
Have Spain, was a little slower to start exploring the Atlantic, only in the late fifteenth century. Navigating to the Spanish crown, Christopher Columbus arrived in America on August 3, 1492 calling "West Indies", a small island of the Bahamas that he named San Salvador. The Spaniards were initially disappointed with their discoveries - unlike Africa or Asia, the Caribbean islands little trade allowed. The islands thus became the focus of colonization efforts. Only later, when the interior of the continent was explored, is that Spain would find the wealth he had sought in the form of abundant gold and silver.
In the Americas the Spanish found a number of empires as large and populous as those in Europe as the Aztec empire in Mexico (conquered in 1521) and the Inca Empire in Peru (conquered in 1532). During this time, pandemics of diseases such as smallpox devastated the indigenous European populations. Once Spanish sovereignty established, exploration focused on the extraction and export of gold and silver.
After the arrival of Columbus to the Americas, a division of the zone of influence became necessary to avoid future conflicts between Spanish and Portuguese. This was resolved in 1494 with the signing of the Treaty of Tordesillas that "divided" the world between the two powers of the time, Portugal and Spain, where only a small part of the Treaty of Tordesillas divided the area had been seen by Europeans, with divided only on paper. Immediately after the first voyage of Columbus several explorers sailed in the same direction.
At the same time that Columbus embarked on two new trips to explore Central America, a second large Portuguese fleet was sent to India. The fleet of thirteen ships and about 1,500 men left Lisbon on March 9, 1500, commanded by Pedro Alvares Cabral. To avoid the lull off the Gulf of Guinea coast, sailed in a southwesterly direction, a large "back from the sea". On April 21, they spotted a mountain named "Mount Pascal", on April 22 landed on the coast, and on 25 April the entire fleet sailed to a port called "Safe Harbor". Cabral perceived that the new land lay east of the Tordesillas line, then sent an emissary to Portugal with the important news, believing that the newly discovered lands were an island, which he called "Island of Vera Cruz". Some historians argue that the Portuguese knew of the existence of the bulge formed by South America to perform the maneuver called the "back of the sea", so the insistence of King John II in moving to the west line of Tordesillas, stating that landing in Brazil may not have been accidental.
The new trans-oceanic links and their domination by the European powers gave the European colonial empires, who came to control much of the planet.