1. Statue of Prince Henry

Mapping Coordinates: 37° 05'57'' N, 9°40'11'' W.
Location: Lagos, Portugal
Status: Contested

     An imposing statue of Prince Henry of Avis (1394-1460) by the Portuguese modernist sculptor Leopoldo Neves de Almeida stands in the Praça Infante Dom Henrique. The statue is situated just meters from Lagos’s Slave Market Museum - a juxtaposition this project calls into question. Prince Henry was a central figure in the early stages of Portuguese maritime expansion, and the man who licensed and profited from the first slaving expeditions to depart from Lagos in the 15th century. No acknowledgement is made in the public space of the tension between the two sites. 

The statue was inaugurated in 1960, under the Salazarist regime, Europe’s longest-lasting dictatorship. Its erection was part of a commemorative programme centred on Henry, through which the regime aimed to promote a positive image of the Portuguese colonial empire. By representing him in the act of contemplating the horizon and holding nautical instruments in his hands, the statue conforms to the myth of Henry as a man of science who relentlessly supported expeditions along the shores of West Africa for the sake of knowledge. 

The origin of the myth of Henry, further embellished with the misleading epithet “the Navigator” as the prince became known from the late nineteenth century, goes back to the sixteenth century. A passage included in a 1540 Latin treatise by the Portuguese humanist Damião de Góis is arguably the first piece in the construction of the myth and was later recovered and expanded by other writers and chroniclers, including Góis himself in his Crónica do Príncipe Dom João (1567).

The statue of Prince Henry was erected at a short distance from the area of the first auction of enslaved people of African origin to be recorded in historical sources. A fleet of caravels transporting several hundred people captured from the north-western coast of Africa returned to Lagos in August 1444. The expedition was organised by the royal tax-collector of Lagos, Lançarote de Freitas, in partnership with other local merchants, who had been granted a license by Prince Henry. The unloading and sale of the enslaved people transported on these caravels, on 8 August 1444, was described by the royal chronicler Gomes Eanes de Zurara in what is arguably the most famous document about the early Atlantic slave trade. Zurara’s Crónica dos feitos da Guiné was completed after 1460. The sharing of enslaved people among the various business partners and their marketing in the presence of Prince Henry is said to have taken place in a field immediately outside the city walls. 

From the archives

The sixteenth-century myth of Prince Henry as a man of knowledge
In the year of the birth of Christ the Saviour of human beings 1433, King John of Portugal, the first of his name, called of fond memory, passed away. He released Portugal from the raids and assaults of the Castilians which had almost devastated all the kingdom. Among the children whom he left, Henry was the most learned, especially in the discipline of mathematics. He did not marry and only lived for the study of the stars. He spent his life at the holy promontory called Cape St Vincent to examine the motion of the stars more carefully. He chose this place where the sky is rarely misty so that the clouds would not prevent him from observing celestial movements through his instruments. Henry spent many nights awake and had already understood that the Atlantic and Indian Ocean flowed into each other. As he wished to seize the fruits of his studies, he decided to make inquiries with his ships and at his own expenses, and journey after journey, he penetrated good part of the Atlantic coast where strongholds, cities, and many islands were discovered.  
(Damião de Góis, Fides, Religio, Moresque Aethiopum... Leuven: Rutger Reysch, 1540, fl. Aivr)  

Anno ab ortu Servatoris humani generis Christi M.cccc.xxxiii. vita functo Ioanne Lusitaniae Rege eius nominis primo, cognomento bonae memoriae, qui Lusitaniam a Castellanorum incursionibus, oppugnationibusque, quibus eam ferme totam populaverant, liberavit, inter alios, quos reliquit filios, Henricus caeteris omnibus, in disciplinis, praecipue mathematicis doctior fuit, qui propter sola astrorum studia coelebs vixit, ac ut cursus stellarum accuratius meditaretur, vitam in sacro promontorio, quod Caput Sancti Vincentij dicitur, egit, quem locum propterea, quod in eo coelum raro turbidum efficitur, elegit, ne nubibus interpositis instrumentis, quibus ad rationem eius muneris utebatur, consideratio coelestium cursuum impediretur. Is autem Henricus, ut fructus studiorum suorum capesseret, id quod iam ex multis vigiliis compertum habebat, nempe Atlanticum Oceanum, in Indicum rursum Indicum in Atlanticum profluere, navibus propriis suis, ac sumptibus costituit investigare, quibus iterum atque iterum missis, bonam partem litoris Atlantici penetravit, in quo oppida & civitates, insulaeque permultae repertae sunt.