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Macau in the Age of Discovery

Courageous Portuguese Explorers Venture to Asia

The European age of African maritime exploration began in the 15th century, after the powerful Turkish Empire had blocked the overland route to the East.  This was the catalyst for Bartolomeu Dias' and subsequent Portuguese expeditions to find a sea route to India.

Years:  1487 — 1499

Seeking trade routes to Asia, Portuguese seafarers began to explore the west coast of Africa in the 15th century, at first cautiously, and then as they grew more familiar with ocean currents and the remote coastline, more boldly. By the end of the century, two great navigators had reached the Indian Ocean, beginning an era of Western influence in Asia that would change the world forever. They had established  a commercial and strategic empire greater by far than any other power in Europe. It was an amazing achievement, and it left its legacy for the ensuing five hundred years.

Bartolomeu Dias (1487-1488)

In 1487, Bartolomeu Dias sailed from Lisbon with three ships to continue the Portuguese exploration of Africa.  Passing the furthest discovered point near Namibia, he erected a "padrão" on what is now known as Dias Point near Lüderitz.  A "padrão" is a limestone pillar bearing the Portuguese coat of arms and an inscription stating when and by whom it was raised.  The cross signified Portuguese sovereignty and Christianity.

From this Point, Dias sailed 13 days southward before strong winds freshened to dangerous, stormy weather.  When the storm subsided, he sailed east, and, failing to find land after several days' search, turned north and struck the Cape coast at Mossel Bay.  He continued eastward as far as the Great Fish River in the Eastern Cape.  By then, the northeasterly outline of the coast became unmistakable.  The way around Africa had been laid open.

Dias had reached and rounded the southern tip of Africa and, having been very nearly shipwrecked, called his triumphant discovery the "Cape of Storms". King João II of Portugal, foreseeing the realization of the long-sought passage, gave it the enduring name "Cape of Good Hope".

Vasco da Gama (1497-1499)

Ten years after Bartolomeu Dias' discovery, Vasco da Gama ventured eastward from the Cape.  Sighting land on December 25, 1497, he named it Natal in honor of Christmas Day.  In a matter of weeks, he reached what is now Goa on the west coast of India.  Vasco da Gama was the first to find the all-sea route to India, and Europe's first commercial maritime empire was founded.

It had taken the Portuguese 70 years to probe their way down the African coast from the Canary Islands to the Cape.  It took Vasco da Gama just 23 days in his ship, the "São Gabriel", to cross from Africa to India.

Discoveries Monument in Lisbon:

Afonso V of Portugal
Vasco da Gama (Discovered sea route to India)
Afonso Gonçalves Baldaia (Navigator)
Pedro Álvares Cabral (Discovered Brazil)
Ferdinand Magellan (First to circumnavigate the world)
Nicolau Coelho (Navigator)
Gaspar Corte-Real (Navigator)
Martim Afonso de Sousa (Navigator)
João de Barros (Writer)
Estêvão da Gama (Sea captain)
Bartolomeu Dias (First to navigate the Cape of Good Hope)
Diogo Cão (First to arrive at the Congo River)
António de Abreu (Navigator)
Afonso de Albuquerque (Second Viceroy of Portuguese India)
Saint Francis Xavier (Jesuit missionary)
Cristóvão da Gama (Captain)

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