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Gama's Route to India

Protected from direct Spanish competition by the treaty of Tordesillas, Portuguese eastward exploration and colonization continued apace. Twice, in 1485 and 1488, Portugal officially rejected Christopher Columbus's idea of reaching India by sailing westwards. King John II of Portugal's experts rejected it, for they held the opinion that Columbus's estimation of a travel distance of 2,400 miles (3,860 km) was undervalued, and in part because Bartolomeu Dias departed in 1487 trying the rounding of the southern tip of Africa, therefore they believed that sailing east would require a far shorter journey. Dias's return from the Cape of Good Hope in 1488, and Pêro da Covilhã travel to Ethiopia overland indicated that the richness of the Indian Sea was accessible from the Atlantic. A long-overdue expedition was prepared.


Under new king Manuel I of Portugal, on July 1497 a small exploratory fleet of four ships and about 170 men left Lisbon under command of Vasco da Gama. By December the fleet passed the Great Fish River—where Dias had turned back—and sailed into unknown waters. On 20 May 1498, they arrived at Calicut. The efforts of Vasco da Gama to get favorable trading conditions were hampered by the low value of their goods, compared with the valuable goods traded there. Two years after departure, Gama and a survivor crew of 55 men returned in glory to Portugal as the first ships to sail directly from Europe to India.

In 1500, a second larger fleet of thirteen ships and about 1500 men was sent to India. Under command of Pedro Álvares Cabral they made a first landfall on the Brazilian coast; later, in the Indian Ocean, one of Cabral's ships reached Madagascar (1501), which was partly explored by Tristão da Cunha in 1507; Mauritius was discovered in 1507, Socotra occupied in 1506. In the same year Lourenço de Almeida landed in Sri Lanka, the eastern island named "Taprobane" in remote accounts of Alexander the Great's and 4th-century BCE Greek geographer Megasthenes. On the Asiatic mainland the first factories (trading-posts) were established at Kochi and Calicut (1501) and then Goa (1510).



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