Bartolomeu Dias

Bartolomeo Diaz

He sailed around the southernmost tip of Africa in 1488, reaching the Indian Ocean from the Atlantic, the first European known to have done so.

Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias led the first European expedition around the Cape of Good Hope in 1488. In 1488, Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias (1450-1500), became the first European sailor who surrounded the southern tip of Africa, paving the way for a sea route from Europe to Asia. Dias’s ship surrounded the dangerous Cape of Good Hope and then sailed around the southernmost point of Africa, Cabo das Agulhas (Cape Agulhas) to enter into the Indian Ocean. Portugal, as well as other European countries had already established trade relations in Asia for a long time, but the hard overland route was closed in 1450, following the conquest by the Ottoman Empire of the remains of the Byzantine Empire. An important maritime victory for Portugal, Dias’s discovery opened the door to increased trades with India and other Asian powers. His journey also determined explorer Christopher Columbus, who lived in Portugal by then, to seek support for a royal mission to establish his own sea route to the Far East. Dias started his journey around August 1487, bypassing the southern tip of Africa in January 1488. The Portuguese, possibly Dias himself, named this tip the Cape of Good Hope. Diaz was lost at sea during another expedition around the Cape in 1500.

In August 1487, Dias’s three ships left the port of Lisbon, Portugal. Dias followed the route of Portuguese explorer Diogo Cao (1450-1486), who followed the coast of Africa, to Cape Cross, Namibia. Dias’s expedition team included six Africans who were brought to Portugal by previous explorers. Dias left the Africans to various ports along the coast of Africa, with reserves of gold and silver and messages of goodwill from the Portuguese to the indigenous people. The last two Africans remained in a place called by the Portuguese sailors: Angra do Salto, probably in modern Angola, and the supplies from the board of the expedition were left there to be guarded by nine men.

Using his experience with explorative travel, Dias helped in the construction of the São Gabriel and its sister ship, the São Rafael, that were used by Vasco da Gama to sail past the Cape of Good Hope and continue his journey to India. Dias only participated in the first part of Da Gama’s voyage, until the Cape Verde Islands. Two years later, he was one of the captains of the second Indian expedition, headed by Pedro Álvares Cabral. This flotilla first reached the coast of Brazil, landing there in 1500, and then continued eastwards to India. Dias perished near the Cape of Good Hope that he presciently had named “Cape of Storms”. Four ships encountered a huge storm off the cape and were lost, including Dias, on 29 May 1500. A shipwreck found in 2008 by the Namdeb Diamond Corporation off Namibia was at first thought to be Dias’s ship. However, the recovered coins came from a later time.

The discovery of the Cape of Good Hope was the greatest discovery that the Portuguese navigator made. In fact, the discovery of the passage to Africa was significant because, for the first time, the Europeans were able to deal directly with India and other parts of Asia while avoiding the overland trade routes through the Middle East, mainly controlled by the Ottoman Turks, who were selling at a high price the goods arriving from the Indies.

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