The Sagres Point (Ponta de Sagres) is a windswept shelf-like promontory located in southwest Algarve region. Its name is derived from the sacred name that the Romans gave this headland, Promontorium Sacrum (Holy Promontory), the place where the setting sun made the waters boil. It is renowned to be the home of Henry the Navigator’s famous school of navigation, and where the prince planned many of Portugal’s greatest explorations. Only 4 km to the west and 3 km to the north lies Cape St. Vincent (Portuguese: Cabo de São Vicente) which is usually taken as the southwesternmost tip of Europe. The vicinity of Sagres Point and Cape St. Vincent has been used for religious purposes since Neolithic times, to which standing menhirs near Vila do Bispo, a few miles from both points, attest.
The promontory of Sagres has always been important for sailors because it offers a shelter for ships before attempting the dangerous voyage around Cape St. Vincent (could be Belixe Bay, between Sagres Point and the Cape, or Sagres Bay, to the east). Given the dangers of being blown onto the coastal rocks, captains preferred to wait in the lee of the point until favourable winds allowed them to continue.
Sagres is also home to Henry’s fortress, Fortaleza de Sagres. This prisonlike fortress was for centuries the main strategic sea defence system in the area. From its scarped cliff, very windy, the visitor enjots a magnificient panoramic view along the coast, prominently the coves of Sagres, the Cape of São Vicente and the Atlantic Ocean.
The 16th century bullwark-like fortress was severely damaged during the Great Earthquake of 1755. It was restored in the mid 20th century, but there is still a 16th century turret present. After passing through the thick tunnel entrance, one sees a giant pebble compass rose (Rosa dos Ventos) of 43 m diameter. Normally compass roses are divided into 32 segments, but strangely this one has 40 segments (probably an error of the 20th-century restorers). It is unlikely to date back to the time of Henry the Navigator.
The much-restored church Nossa Senhora da Graça dates from 1579. It replaced the original church of Prince Henry of 1459. It was also damaged by the earthquake of 1755. Some alterations to the church were made, such as the building of a new bell tower over the old charnel house of the cemetery. There are still a set of tombstones present. Inside this unpretentious church, the 17th century Baroque retable above the altar originates from the Capela de Santa Catarina do Forte de Belixe (St. Catherine’s Chapel in Belixe Fortress), while the polychrome statues of St. Vincent and St. Francis were once part of the Franciscan convent on the Cape St. Vincent.
Next to the church stands a replica stone standard (padrão), used by the explorers to claim a newly discovered territory.