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Vasco da Gama

Vasco da Gama (1460/9–1524)Vasco da Gama (1460/9–1524) In the late 15th century, Europeans were keen to find a new sea route to the Far East. They wanted to trade independently with China, Japan and India without having to rely on the Silk Road, a trade route which led overland through Central Asia and was under the control of Muslims. In July 1497, under the orders of King Manuel I, Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama (c.1460–1524) set sail from Lisbon in the hope of finding a new route to India around the southern tip of Africa.

Rounding the Cape

The four ships under da Gama's commandThe four ships under da Gama's commandVasco da Gama set out with four ships under his command: two large merchant ships, the São Gabriel and the São Rafael; the Berrio, a light caravel (small, speedy sailing ship); and an unnamed store ship (which was later damaged in a storm and abandoned). To avoid unfavourable winds and currents, da Gama boldly led his fleet out into the Atlantic instead of along the west coast of Africa. They did not see land for three months. The crew feared that they would sail off the edge of the earth. The fleet eventually swung east round the Cape of Good Hope, near the southernmost tip of Africa.

Da Gama's route to India, 1497–98Da Gama's route to India, 1497–98

The province of Natal in South Africa was given its name by da Gama as he sailed by it close to Christmas 1497. “Natal” means “Christmas” in Portuguese.

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