At that time, Ceuta was an important city for commerce, besides, its strategic position also allowed to control the entrances and exits from the Mediterranean Sea. But soon Portuguese royals detected the problem, Ceuta became a drain on the Portuguese treasury, the caravans that once sold their products in Ceuta changed to Tangier, a friendlier city. Ceuta was part of the Portugal until 1668, when the city passed officially to Spain, but until nowadays the flag of Ceuta have the Portuguese coat of arms.
The conquest of Ceuta marks the beginning of the Portuguese Empire, that just ended in 20 December, 1999 when Portugal gave Macau to the Popular Republic of China. Portugal was on all continents, discovering newest maritime routes, bringing new ingredients for the old Europe and spreading the Portuguese language and European products thought its colonies. Portugal started the globalization process in the world.
It’s a matter of great importance to understand that the maritime tradition of Portugal started before the conquest of Ceuta. With the expulsion of the Moors of Portugal (1249) and with the borders more or less stable with Spain (there were a few conflicts between both countries throughout the history), the King Dinis I developed the foreign trade. In 1317, the king Dinis reached an agreement with an Genoese navigator and merchant, making him the first flag-officer of the Portuguese royal fleet in exchange for the protection of the Portuguese cost against pirate attacks.
The bases for the Portuguese Navy were thus released. His son, the King Afonso IV, created a commercial fleet and ordered the first maritime explorations with the help of the Genoese. They arrived in the Canary Islands, but a dispute with the Spanish king made Portugal loose them. His grand-son, the King Fernando the first, created the Companhia das Naus, it was an insurance company for the Portuguese vessels.
All this steps helped Portugal to start its overseas expansion, but the biggest booster of the discoveries was the infant Henrique. Henrique, the navigator, founded a shipyard with the goal to put together important navigators and scientists in order to develop the navigation. The caravel was developed during this time and permitted a quick maritime expansion.
As all empires, the Portuguese Empire had its ups and downs. The independence of Brazil was one of the major setbacks, in spite of this, Portugal profited from Brazil during many years, as also had it cleared a profit from the East before Brazil. Besides, Portugal turned to their colonies in Africa, but most of the Portuguese Empire was a thalassocracy, an empire at sea with merchant cities, leaving the interior empty and unprotected.
The British Empire launched an ultimatum in 1890 as they had a claim for a portion of land on the basis of effective occupation. The territory, mostly known by Rose-coloured Map would connect the Portuguese African colonies of Angola and Mozambique, was claimed by Portugal on the basis of historical discovery. The credibility of the Portuguese Monarchy was strongly affected and encouraged Republicanism.
A special song was created due to the rivival of the nationalist movement inspired by the British ultimatum, later it was transformed into the National Anthem of the Portuguese Republic “A Portuguesa”.
In May 2009, Portugal delivered the “Extension Proposal of the Portuguese Continental Shelf beyond 200 nautical miles” to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) with an answer expected in the next few years. Nowadays, the exclusive economic zone of Portugal is the third largest in the European Union, and 11th in the World. If the extension proposal is accepted this area will increase from 1.727.408 km2 to 3.877.408 km2.
Nowadays, Portugal is trying to revive its sea vocation. The current President of Portugal referred many times in his speeches to the opportunities that the sea would open again to Portugal. The Portuguese government also created a new map to be showed in the schools that clearly points out : Portugal have more sea territory than land territory. This will change the perception of how Portuguese people, especially the kids, see the Portuguese territory.
Portugal has one of the biggest Continental Shelf in the World and Portuguese people need to rethink the way they perceive the sea. Portugal can be able to derive benefit from the maritime affairs. The Portuguese Navy was never too strong, but it was always succeeding in controlling the maritime territory. Nowadays, it may seem safer in the sea than a few years ago.
Major improvements in the boats and in the techniques are needed to enhance the profitability of the Portuguese sea. Portugal do not have oil, so Portuguese people needs to work with what they have. The sea is getting more and more importance along with the agriculture. The crisis compels to change a bit the way of thinking, but now it is the time to benefit and recover from the crisis.