At a time when our last trip is beginning to date and the next one is unfortunately no longer on the agenda, diving back into the adventures of the great explorers allows you to travel from your couch. After following in the footsteps of Marco Polo from Venice to the Far East, today we propose to follow Vasco de Gama on his journey on the seas between Portugal and India. This was an unprecedented adventure at the time, as he was the first to reach the Indian continent by rounding Africa via the Cape of Good Hope.
Vasco da Gama, in Portuguese, was born in Sines, Portugal, in the beautiful Alentejo region, supposedly in 1469. This great Portuguese navigator is world-famous, as he is considered the first European to arrive in India by sea. He was born into the lower nobility and his childhood was steeped in stories of the Crusades and the Reconquista
It must be said that Vasco de Gama's birthplace has always been oriented towards the open sea. Land of welcome of the former Portuguese colonies, Sines is a city, a real one, but also a port, with its bars that only close at sunrise, its sailors and fishermen. One of the most mixed populations in Portugal's largest port. At times, this small town is reminiscent of Hamburg or Antwerp. It is rough, and the tourist infrastructure is practically non-existent. But after walking through the narrow streets of the old town and seeing the castle and the statue of Vasco de Gama overlooking the city, having a few drinks at the bar and listening to the fishermen's stories, it is easy to imagine the explorer's childhood. You can also visit his house, next to the city museum in the Sines castle. It retraces the life of the navigator, his contribution as a pioneer of voyages around the world, and we discover the space where he lived in the castle. Although little is known about his childhood, some historians suggest that he studied navigational sciences and mathematics in Évora, a little over 100 km inland from Sines. In any case, he officially became a naval officer in 1492
Five years ago, Bartolomeu Dias rounded the Cape of Storms at the tip of South Africa, but had to turn back to avoid a mutiny from the crew. At the same time, he opened the way to the Indies and King John II of Portugal renamed this cape and gave it its current name: the Cape of Good Hope.
Ten years later, in July 1497, Vasco de Gama embarked on his first expedition, commanded by the king. He left at the head of several ships and about 200 men. Not without difficulty, he managed to pass the Cape of Good Hope. He began to sail up the Indian Ocean to reach the coast of Mozambique at Inhambane. At the time, Arabs and Portuguese were competing for the monopoly of trade in the region. There are only five or six days left, a priori, but Mozambique will then become a Portuguese colony until its independence in June 1975. The statue of the navigator, erected at the entrance of the port, has finally been replaced today by that of Samora Machel, the president of the independence of Mozambique.
After its African port of call, Vasco de Gama will finally set sail again to reach the coast of Malabar and Calicut (now Kozhikode), the port of India and a bustling commercial centre. We are here in the state of Kerala in the extreme south of the country. Vasco de Gama landed on 20 May 1498, on the beach of the fishing village of Kappad, some 15 km north of Calicut. He was accompanied at that time by 170 sailors, as indicated by the commemorative column that can be seen today not far from the beach. But quickly disappointed by the turn of events and India's refusal to grant him commercial advantages, he left three months later. Legend has it that on the way back, he stopped in Zanzibar, a heavenly piece of land facing Tanzania. But according to many historians, the inaccuracies and exaggerations of his writings on the island and its inhabitants suggest that he never actually set foot there! Mystery..
Return as a hero and new expeditions
Back in Portugal, he was welcomed back as a hero, despite the failure of the Indian negotiations. He was then appointed "Admiral of India" and took control of a large part of the trade with India. He then made a second voyage between 1502 and 1503, from which he returned laden with spices and precious stones, and definitively established a new sea route. He then resettled in Évora in early retirement, before undertaking a final voyage after his appointment as viceroy of India in 1524. His aim was to fight against the corruption that reigned in the trading posts. He finally died a year after his arrival in India in Cochin (Kochi at present). An exciting city in the south of the country where one can still feel the Portuguese influences, but also Dutch, Chinese, Christian, Muslim, Jewish and of course Malabar influences. Fort Manuel was built by the Portuguese in the time of Vasco de Gama to protect their commercial interests. Above all, even today, one can still visit the church of Saint Francis, built in the 16th century and a major monument of the city. It is here, in the oldest European church in India, that Vasco de Gama was buried in 1526. Yet it was only a temporary resting place for the navigator, because sixteen years later his son Pedro da Silva de Gama brought his father's remains back to Portugal. Today it lies in a Carmelite convent near the village of Vidigueira