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Sea route to India

Vasco da Gama
Vasco de Gama
Did you know that… ?
  • ... Vasco da Gama, three years after his first trip, was at his own request sent back to India and subsequently returned there two more times?
  • ... Vasco da Gama died of malaria on Christmas Eve 1524 in the Indian port  of Cochin, at the age of 55?
  • ... Vasco da Gama's expeditions laid the foundations for confirming Portugal's subsequent colonial power?
  • ... the name of the Malabar coast, where Vasco da Gama first landed is derived from the historic region of Malabar, situated between the Arabian Sea and the Western Ghats range?
  • ... the St. Helens Bay, where Gama first anchored in Africa, the Portuguese encountered the Hottentots, who, during a skirmish, severely wounded Vasco da Gama with a spear?
  • ... the expedition to India took over two years, half of which was spent on the open ocean, where they encountered unknown currents and strong storms?
  • ... one of the findings of the expedition was that it would be necessary to use all available force to eject the Muslims, so that the Portuguese would have access to the riches of the Orient?
Route to India map
  • Vasco da Gama sailed from the port of Restella on July 8th, 1497 and returned to Portugal in early September, 1499.
  • The four ships carried 180 seamen and soldiers.
  • Vasco da Gama's ships were named Sao Gabriel, which da Gama commanded himself and displaced 120 tons, Sao Raphael, commanded by da Gama's brother Paolo, a smaller and faster caraval Berrio (50 tons) entrusted to the experienced Nicolau Coelho and a supply ship, whose captain was Pedro Nunez. Following orders, it was burned halfway through the journey.
  • Only two ships with 55 seamen returned to Lisbon.

Vasco da Gama, at the age of 28, was sent by the Portuguese king Manuel I on July 8th, 1497, to take his flotilla of four ships and 180 men around Africa to India and bring back spices. The flotilla left Restella, a port on the mouth of the Teja River, near Lisbon. He rounded the Cape of Good Hope and anchored in Sao Braz (today Mossel Bay), where he had the supply ship burned. The land where Gama arrived on December 24th he named Natal (Christmas) and it has that name today. After 11 months of difficult sailing, the three Portuguese caravels anchored in front of the Indian port city of Calicut on May 20th, 1498. The port is on the Malabar coast. Here da Gama met with opposition from Arab traders, who had established themselves there much earlier. They succeeded in turning the ruler of Calicut against him, who then ridiculed da Gama in an audience and expelled him from the land. Thanks to da Gama's diplomatic skills, the expedition succeeded in procuring some spices anyway, but due to steadily worsening relations between the Portuguese and the Arabs, da Gama decided to return home. Late January of 1499, the ship Sao Raphael ran aground and had to be burned. When the remaining two ships returned to Lisbon in early September of 1499, only 55 seamen were still alive. Even da Gama's brother Paolo had died. The crew was sick with scurvy and almost dead with exhaustion. The sea route to India had been opened.