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Vasco da Gama

Famous Portuguese People: Vasco da Gama

Vasco da Gama

Vasco da Gama (1460-1524) is Portugal's most renown navigator, explorer and adventurer.

Born in Sines in 1460 (although 1469 is an alternative date) little is known of Vasco da Gama's early life. He may have studied in Evora before he was sent by the monarchy to Setubal and the Algarve to intercept French shipping raiding the Portuguese coast.

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. Vasco da Gama, as a successful sea captain after his victories against French privateers, was commissioned by King Manuel I to set sail from Lisbon with a tiny flotilla of four ships to explore the route to India via the Cape of Good Hope, which had first been sailed by Bartolomeu Dias.

After a series of adventures after venturing into waters off the east coast of Africa never previously visited by Europeans, Vasco da Gama employed the services of a local pilot and reached the western coast of southern India in 1498, where he attempted to reach an agreement to trade with the local Indian rulers.

Vasco da Gama.
Vasco da Gama

Leaving for home in 1498, da Gama endured a hazardous return voyage back to Lisbon losing half his crew and three of his ships en route.

In 1502 Vasco da Gama returned to the waters off the Indian coast with a larger fleet of 20 vessels, plundering Arab shipping in the area and murdering their crews and passengers en route. He returned to Portugal a hero and was endowed with new titles and land after he successfully negotiated a trade treaty with the rulers of the Malabar Coast.

By the time of Vasco da Gama's third and last voyage to India in 1524, the Portuguese had set up small trading stations and proto-colonies in Goa and on the Cochin coast of western India. This was to be da Gama's last voyage, as the great adventurer contracted malaria and died of the disease in Kochi in India in 1524.

The Monastery of the Hieronymites in Belém, just west of Lisbon was built in honor of da Gama and his men. The voyages of Vasco da Gama lead the way for the Portuguese colonization of eastern Africa and his legacy can be viewed as mixed; a hero in Portugal and a ruthless privateer to the people of southern Africa and Mozambique.

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