Portugal's Da Gama Opens Sea Route to India

1497-1499


Prince Henry the Navigator in the early 1400s initiated Portugal's expeditions by sea southward along the coast of Africa. Vasco daGamaIn 1497 Vasco da Gama, who had already gained distinction in Portugal's wars against Castile, was appointed by the Portuguese king to lead a royal fleet of four vessels beyond the farthest point previously explored. Departing Portugal in July 1497, DaGama's fleet reached the Cape of Good Hope by November. At the beginning of the following year, he left the African Coast, sailing across the Indian Ocean and making port at Calicut on the west coast of India in May 1498.

By September 1499 Da Gama had successfully returned to Portugal, bearing the shattering news that the goal that had eluded Columbus and other mariners for centuries before him -- a sea route to the Orient -- had been achieved.

For Venice the discovery was a blow as great as Columbus' discovery of the New World just a few years earlier. Now the large and lucrative trade between Northern Europe and Asia could bypass entirely the trade routes through the Mediterranean Ocean and Black Sea that Venice dominated.


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