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Bartolomeu Dias

Famous Portuguese People: Bartolomeu Dias

Bartolomeu Dias

Bartolomeu Dias (1457-1500) was one of Portugal's most famous navigators and explorers and paved the way for the exploits of his more well-known contemporary Vasco da Gama.

Born to an aristocratic family, Bartolomeu's father attended the royal Portuguese court. It is possible he was related to Joao Dias who had sailed around Cape Bojador in 1434 and Diniz Dias who was the discoverer of the Cape Verde Islands.

The end of the 15th century was the beginning of the "Age of Discoveries" with a number of European powers searching for a nautical route to India and its riches via the Atlantic. In 1481 Bartolomeu Dias joined a voyage with Diogo d'Azambuja to explore the Gold Coast of West Africa (the area of present-day Ghana).

Five years later, King John II of Portugal commissioned the young Bartolomeu to sail around the southern tip of Africa and search for the mythical Christian knight, Prester John and open a trade route to India.

After a hazardous voyage from Lisbon beginning in 1487, Dias reached the tip of the African continent which he named Cabo Tormentosa ("the Cape of Storms") - this was later renamed by King John as the Cape of Good Hope. Dias had traveled by way of Sao Jorge de Mina, a Portuguese fort on the Gold Coast, Golfo da Conceicão (Walvis Bay) and Golfo de Santo Estevao (Elizabeth Bay - both in present-day Namibia). Dias landed in 1488 at Bahia dos Vaqueiros (Mossel Bay in South Africa) and later at Bahia da Roca (Algoa Bay) and Kwaaihoek. It was here that the crew of the expedition forced Dias to turn back, with his ship arriving in Lisbon later in the year after a journey of 16 months.

On his return Dias used his knowledge of the voyage to build two ships: the São Gabriel and the São Rafael that were later sailed by Vasco da Gama to India.

In 1497 Dias sailed with Vasco da Gama as far as the Cape Verde Islands, before da Gama continued on to India.

Three years later Dias was a captain in a fleet under the command of Pedro Álvares Cabral, which was to sail to India. Getting lost in the Atlantic, Cabral landed in Brazil, which he claimed for Portugal. Heading east again, the ships were battered by a violent storm off the coast of Africa near the Cape of Good Hope in which Dias' ship was sunk. Thus, at a very young age, Portugal lost one of its finest navigators and sea captains.

Dias was married with two sons and his grandson Paulo Dias de Novais was later to become the first Captain-Governor of Angola.

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