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Vasco da Gama’s voyage 1497-1498

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

In 1497, King Manuel I of Portugal chose Vasco da Gama to lead the first maritime expedition to the Indies.

The route had already been opened up by Bartolomeu Dias who had sailed around the Cape of Good Hope ten years earlier.

In the meantime, Pero da Covilha had sent back to Lisbon valuable information on navigational conditions in the Indian Ocean.

Da Gama’s flotilla was composed of four ships. It left Lisbon on 8 July and headed for the islands of Cape Verde.

It then sailed westwards taking advantage of the favourable winds in the South Atlantic before returning to the African coast at Saint Helena Bay.

The ships sailed around the Cape of Good Hope in mid-November, after struggling for several days against winds and strong currents.

Vasco da Gama then spent one month on the coast of what is now Natal Province, giving his crew time to recuperate their strength and repair the ships.  They then continued to sail along the eastern coast of Africa. The first contacts with local sultans were difficult because Muslim merchants, who were already well established in this region, were worried about losing their trading monopoly.  

In Malindi, relations were more amicable. Vasco da Gama was able to hire a pilot, whose good knowledge of conditions in the Indian Ocean helped the Portuguese navigator make the crossing to India in 23 days.

During their three-month stay in India, relations between Vasco da Gama and the sovereign of Calicut were difficult, and there were few opportunities for trade.

On the return journey, the Portuguese fleet sailed past Mogadiscio and, later, Zanzibar.  Of the 150 men who had set out from Lisbon more than 2 years earlier, half had lost their lives during the voyage.

Vasco da Gama’s exploit marked the end of nearly a century of Portuguese efforts to discover a sea route between Europe and the Indies.

With regard to diplomatic contacts, Vasco da Gama’s mission to oriental sovereigns was a failure, and the Portuguese understood that they were not welcome in the Indian Ocean trading controlled by Muslim merchants.