At the end of the fifteenth century, Europe expands outside of its Millennial "habitat": the spaces in which it was always locked up, dilate on the heels of the new Atlantic routes traced by the Portuguese and Spanish ships. It’s the beginning of the expansion of the West that would have led, in later centuries, to challenging comparisons and clashes of cultures that would have radically changed the real spaces, mental categories, and economic dimensions in which had hitherto developed human civilizations. The great discovery voyages with which Europe opens a direct link with the peoples of other continents open up the process of interdependence on a worldwide basis, which is the most explicit characteristics of modern and contemporary history.
To the little kingdom of Portugal was given the role of the Atlantic impassable boundary of the known universe in a sea that was a bridge of communication between East and West. The objective of the Portuguese caravels, which since the beginning of the fifteenth century had begun to sail to the southern hemisphere, was taken to the source spices, silks, precious stones, ivory and slaves of the East to transfer directly in Europe. Doing so, would have avoided the commercial mediation Arabs and Venetians, terminal ring of the long chain of exchange between East and West, and Portugal could gain on the sale of goods for the great demand in European markets. It took about seventy years to advance the navigation to the Cape of Good Hope, the southern boundary of the African continent in 1498, the ships of Vasco da Gama could finally cross the Indian Ocean and dock at the port of Calicut on the west coast of India. Settled in the heart of the maritime trade of the products of the East, the fleet led by Alfonso de Albuquerque (the prototype of many founders of the colonial empires of the future) did not take long to wipe out the Arab merchants and seize control of the routes in the Indian Ocean due to technological supremacy of ships and armaments in Europe. The Portuguese were thus able to establish a commercial empire that by the ports of the Indian spices extended to Ceylon, the island of cinnamon, Malacca, the land of carnations, and the distant Moluccas. During the same period, the Spanish ships had identified the routes to cross the Atlantic driven by the trade winds, the winds that, in 1492, had pushed the caravels of Columbus across the ocean. The chance to meet those lands which the Genoese believed to belong to Cathay and Cipangu (China and Japan), attracted other fleets from Spain and other voyagers, whose discoveries made plausible the hypothesis of the existence of a new world. Significantly "Mundus novus" was the title of the book published by Amerigo Vespucci between 1503 and 1504 in which he denounced the millennial cosmographic error inherited from Aristotle and Ptolemy: the representation of the world had to be revised because the trips were fully brought to light new seas and new lands, new cultures and new civilizations.