This video is part of a series of 16 animated maps.

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The voyage of Pêro da Covilha

This map is part of a series of 16 animated maps showing the history of The Age of Discovery.

In the 15th century, while the Portuguese navigators gradually progressed along the west coast of Africa, the Indian Ocean remained a mystery to the Europeans.

In 1487, King Joao II of Portugal summoned two of his trusted men, Pêro da Covilha and Alfonso de Paiva, and gave them a mission to learn more about sailing conditions between Africa and India and to make contact with the legendary Christian Kingdom of Prester John.

The two men set sail from Barcelona and, after a stay in Naples and then Rhodes, landed in Alexandria in Egypt where they pretended to be Muslim merchants.

They stayed a short while in Cairo before continuing their journey to Aden where their paths separated.

Paiva crossed the Red Sea in search of Prester John’s Kingdom, which was thought to be in the area now known as Ethiopia.

Meanwhile, Covilha boarded a ship bound for the Indian coast.  There, he learned about the great ports of Calicut and Goa and their importance for trade in the Indian Ocean.

After the monsoon when the winds changed direction, Covilha returned via Ormuz, landed in Somalia and continued down the African coast. He noted that, in these regions, there was much trading and that it was dominated by Muslim navigators, but that they never went further south than the Canal of Mozambique.  

During the year 1490, Covilha returned to Cairo.  He heard that Paiva had died and met two envoys from the King of Portugal to whom he gave his report on the sailing conditions and the organization of trade in the Indian Ocean.

Covilha then set off along the same route as Paiva and arrived in Ethiopia. He was welcomed by the Negus Eskender and never returned to Portugal. Thirty years later, he was still living at the court of Ethiopia.   

The Kingdom of Prester John

In the 12th century, there were rumours spreading in Armenia and Venice of a Christian realm, known as the Kingdom of Prester John.  No one knew where it was, but it was believed to be somewhere in Africa or near the border of China. It was thought that its people would help the Crusaders in Jerusalem.