What was the Portuguese Renaissance?
After the fall of Constantinople in 1453 to the Ottoman Empire, a handful of Greek scholars managed to escape what is today Istanbul. Mostly fleeing to the Italian peninsula, they brought with them a wealth of ancient Greek and Arabic texts which covered a range of topics, from philosophy to math; theology to the natural sciences. This influx of knowledge, which for centuries had been more-or-less lost, added fuel to a pre-existing spark which would ultimately transition Europe's politics, culture and society from the Dark Ages into modernity.
Much like the rest of Europe, the influence of the Renaissance first came to Portugal via Italy. However, Portugal's critical position at the edge of the continent along with its already expanding network of trade, led to a Renaissance culture which in many ways was a melting-pot of a wide array of cultures and ideas. For example, artistic influences from neighboring Spain blended with ideas from Portuguese trading ports in Asia, and as result the distinctive Portuguese Renaissance was born.
During this time, Lisbon was able to establish itself as one of Europe's leading centers for the arts and learning. It's position as a vital port, allowed the city to grow exponentially and adapt to the near constant influx of new ideas and innovations. This gave way to a particular kind of artistic and architectural expression unique to Portugal—the Manueline style.
Named after King Manuel I, but also referred to as Portuguese late Gothic, this architectural expression truly came to prominence in the 16th century, just as Portugal began asserting herself as an economic and cultural powerhouse. As such, the Manueline style combines traditional elements of late Gothic with maritime elements which give a nod to the country's reliance on overseas trade and expansion culminating in grand, opulent archways and columns with rich, intricate ornamentation.
In many ways, the Manueline style embodies the Renaissance as it occurred in Portugal in that it expressively captures both the excesses and worldliness of this small nation's relationship with God, empire and the sea.
Our list: the flourishing of Portuguese architecture & art