Discovery of the sea way to India

The discovery of the sea route to India is the common designation for Europe's first voyage to India across the Atlantic Ocean, under the command of the Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama during the reign of King D. Manuel I, between 1497-1498. The goods were transported across the Arabian Sea by Indians, Arabs or Persians. 

Brought by sea from India, to the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea, they followed in caravans to Alexandria and other ports in the Eastern Mediterranean. There, they were bought by Venetian and Genoese merchants to be sold throughout Europe.

Now, Portugal had discovered a route that would allow it to dispense with all intermediaries and acquire the precious stones and spices directly at their source. 

Portugal did not achieve this, however, with just one trip. For almost a century, their ships had been advancing further south, along the unknown western coast of Africa, in search of the southern tip of this continent. In 1488, Bartolomeu Dias finally found him, but, after bending the Cape of Good Hope, he acceded to the demands of his frightened crew and returned. This sign of weakness may have led the king to ignore the experienced Bartolomeu Dias and choose Vasco da Gama to lead the new expedition that would go around Africa, go up to its eastern coast and then venture into the unknown Indian Ocean as he headed for the ports. bustling from the East. 

Although little is known about the early years of Vasco da Gama's career, he was certainly a resolute chief and an experienced sailor. All the narratives of the time describe him as a tough, authoritarian and "terribly violent when angry" man. The fleet that Vasco da Gama headed was the largest and best organized of the Portuguese maritime exploration expeditions. Two of the four ships had been built especially for this mission, under the orders of the experienced Bartolomeu Dias.

They were armed with cannons and equipped with the most modern nautical charts and navigation instruments existing at the time. S. Gabriel, under the command of Gonçalo Álvares, was Vasco da Gama's flagship. Paulo da Gama, his brother, commanded S. Rafael, and Nicolau Coelho, Bérrio. While loading the provisions vessel, Vasco da Gama was busy recruiting sailors. It is estimated that the crews would total 118 to 170 men, including some veterans from Bartolomeu Dias' trip.

 In addition to the usual sailors, soldiers, carpenters and so on, they also took priests, interpreters and even buglers. Some were also exiled and sentenced to death, who would be entrusted with particularly risky missions on land. If they were successful, they would be forgiven on their return to Portugal. 


On July 10, 1499, exactly two years and two days after the beginning of the expedition, the “Bérrio” launched iron in the port of Lisbon and Nicolau Coelho, triumphant, announced his return to the king. “São Gabriel” followed in mid-August, and a few weeks later Vasco da Gama himself arrived in Portugal. Immediately acclaimed as a national hero, Vasco da Gama had an enthusiastic welcome. With consummate expertise and stubborn determination, he had proved beyond a doubt that there was a sea route to India - and that Portugal had ships and men up to the risks of the voyage. 

Having as commercial and administrative capital the city of Goa, in India, the Portuguese Empire in the East, soon became a source of national pride.

On the other hand, following a policy of secrecy concerning trade and navigation, Portugal avoided the disclosure of important records, letters and navigation instructions, for fear that its European rivals would try to follow the Vasco da Gama route.



Last modified: Saturday, 4 Apr 2020, 18:50