How did Vasco da Gama know about the Southern Cross?

How did Vasco da Gama know about the Southern Cross?

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It is said that the precession cycle of the Earth's axis takes about 26,000 years to complete. It is also said that the ancient Greeks could see Crux (aka the Southern Cross) from where they lived. It is a constellation resembling a cross:

It is also believed that Vasco da Gama was the first European in a long time to see it as he traveled south along the African coast, but he somehow expected to see it. There were rumors and legends about it.

Wouldn't this mean that he, and the astronomers of his time, knew about precession (almost a century before the advent of Kepler's and Galileo's theories)?

In 1460, at the time of the death of Prince Henry, the Navigator, the Portuguese had mapped the western coast of Africa down to the 8 N parallel. The Southern Cross is well seen at this latitude. Really, all stars can be seen between the tropics, and the Northern Tropic was reached even earlier. In 1471, they crossed the Equator and began to be guided by Crux.

And Vasco da Gama's travel started in 1497. Of course, he expected and simply knew he would see the Southern Cross. Europeans had looked at it for more than 40 years already. He counted on it. He was well prepared to use it for navigation, as they already did. Only the Cross was higher in the sky for him, than for his predecessors, thus being in the more convenient position.

And even if he were the first European to see it, he would simply have heard about the Cross from Arab sailors. And buy navigation charts from them, that would say how to use the Southern Cross for the Southern Pole placement. (It is not so simple as with the Polar Star)

The two pieces of knowledge - about the existence of Cross and about the precession - are practically independent. Or worse than independent, because the precession means that in a thousand years the points of North/South will move noticeably. So, if da Gama had information about usability of Southern Cross in the far past, and used precession data, he would conclude that the Cross is NOT usable now.

And yes, Europeans knew about precession for minimally 13 centuries at that moment, for already Ptolemy used it to wrongly fake his catalogue on the base of Hipparchos catalogue. History of Star Catalogs, page 5

Vasco da Gama’s Voyage of ‘Discovery’ 1497

Vasco da Gama carried out 2 expeditions between 1497 and 1502. This feature focuses on the first, as it was during this expedition that Vasco da Gama's crew landed in South Africa.

The reason for putting "discovery" in inverted commas is because the land was not, as so many explorers argue, discovered by them. The land was already occupied and was being used by the inhabitants. The reason why groups often state their arrival on some foreign land as a "discovery" is because, according to the primitive 'finders keepers' rule, this lends support to any claim they make to "owning" the land. For an unpacking of this mystification of the history of exploration.

The First Expedition

The Portuguese expedition set off from the Tagus River on 8 July 1497 with a crew of 148 men in a squadron of three square-riggers, the Sao Gabriel, the Sao Raphael, the Berrio, and a supply ship. The commander-in-chief, Vasco da Gama embarked on the Sao Gabriel accompanied by his pilot, Pedro de Alenquer. Vasco's brother, Paulo, captained the Sao Raphael. For almost four months they sailed across the Atlantic without sight of land until, on *4 November 1497, they reached a bay (current day St Helena). Vasco da Gama named the bay Bahai da Santa Elena (St Helena Bay), after the Religious Mother of Constantine the Great. Close to, or near the mouth of the Berg River, the explorers set in to make repairs, look for water, and check their position. It was here that they had their first encounter with the Khoikhoi. A misunderstanding arose between them, and fearing attack, the Khoikhoi threw spears, wounding Da Gama in the thigh.

In the teeth of a gale, the Portuguese squadron rounded the Cape on 22 November, and three days later, the battered ships sailed into Santa Bras (Mossel Bay), sighting islands thick with noisy birds. They unloaded their damaged store ship and then burnt it, while da Gama traded gifts with the Khoikhoi. However, they offended the Khoikhoi when they took fresh water without asking the chief's permission, and the Khoikhoi began to assemble in an armed mass. The sailors hurriedly took to their boats while a couple of cannon blasts dispersed the Khoikhoi.

The east coast

By Christmas, the squadron was off the hazardous coast of Pondoland, which they named Natal. Three days later, they were enjoying good fishing off a point they called Ponta de Pescaria (Durban bluff). Head winds blew them out to sea and when they managed to reach the coast again, they anchored off Inharrime on the coast of Mozambique. They replenished their water barrels and, finding the iron-working ancestors of the Tsonga friendly and generous, they named the area Terra da Boa Gente ('land of the good people').

At Mozambique Island, they forcefully engaged two Arab pilots and when the Muslim inhabitants realized the explorers were Christians, they grew hostile. To keep them at bay, da Gama bombarded the town and then sailed away. On 7 April, Da Gama anchored off Mombasa. The sultan generously sent them sheep, fresh vegetables and fruit but when one of the Arab pilots jumped overboard as they were entering the harbour, the Portuguese became suspicious of the sultan's intentions. Da Gama forced some Muslims on board, tortured them with boiling oil, and learned of a plot to avenge the Portuguese attack on Mozambique. Thus forewarned, they were able to stave off an attack and continued on their way. Nearing Malindi (near Mombasa), they found the sultan much more friendly and helpful. He provided them with an expert pilot to steer them to India, thus laying the foundation of a long and mutually profitable alliance.

From Malindi the ships sailed for Calicut in India and anchored on the Malabar Coast on 20 May 1498. There, Muslim traders swayed the Hindu ruler against the Christian explorers, who again narrowly escaped death. The Portuguese squadron sailed from India on 20 September 1498, but on the return voyage, disaster overtook them. First, they were becalmed for many days, and then, contrary winds and currents dragged out their crossing. Thirty men died. The survivors arrived at Malindi on 7 January 1499. Here, they erected a padrÁƒ£o (stone cross), which still exists. Lacking able-bodied men to sail all the ships, da Gama burned the Sao Raphael.

On 20 March 1499, the two remaining ships rounded the Cape and sailed on for the Portuguese outpost on the Azores where da Gama delayed sailing because his brother Paulo had died. The Berrio sailed on to Portugal, where it dropped anchor at the Tagus on 10 July 1499. When Da Gama arrived at Lisbon about three weeks later, the Portuguese gave him a hero's welcome. The king awarded him the grand title, 'Lord of the Conquest, Navigation and Commerce of Ethiopia, Arabia, Persia and India', and 'Admiral of the Indian Sea', with the rank of Dom, and many other rewards. Soon afterwards, he married Catherina de Ataide with whom he had six sons and a daughter.

The Second Expedition

In order to impose a monopoly on the spice trade, da Gama sailed with a fleet from Portugal in 1502, bound for Mozambique and Sofala. There, he obtained some gold established trading rights, and forced the new Sultan of Mozambique to pay homage to the King of Portugal with an annual tribute of gold. In India, da Gama attacked Calicut, tortured his captives horribly - we are told he cut off their noses and ears and sent them to the Sultan of Calicut - and after preying on Moslem ships, returned to Portugal heavily laden with booty. From then onwards, the Portuguese made regular voyages using Mossel Bay and Mombasa as their main replenishing posts. Oriental silks, satins and spices, and African ivory and gold brought wealth to the Crown and led to Portugal's dominance of the Cape route. In 1524, Jono III commanded Da Gama to return to India as viceroy. He reached Goa on 11 September 1524, but died at Cochin three months later. His remains were eventually returned to Portugal and interred at St Jeronimos in 1880.

Why is Vasco da Gama’s journey in 1497 important for the history of the UAE?

In 1497 the Royal Authority entrusted da Gama, by then an expert navigator, with an extremely important task: to open a new route from Portugal to the spice markets in India. At the time, Arabs, Venetians and Persians already controlled land routes like the Silk Road. Vasco da Gama's idea was to circumnavigate Africa.



Vasco da gama's journey in 1497

Vasco da gama's journey in 1497important for the history of the middle

Vasco da gama's journey in 1497important for the history of the middlewast.


Vasco da Gama was known for finding a

new trade route around the southern tip of

Africa and to India.

In 1497 the Royal Authority committed the

Vasco da Gama, by then a proficient

navigator, with a remarkably significant

To initiate a new route from Portugal to the

spice markets in India. At the time, Persians

and Arabs already regulated ground routes.

Vasco da Gama's ideawas to critically navigate Africa which was

Vasco da Gama's ideawas to critically navigate Africa which wasthe most Important for the history.

How does history remember Vasco da Gama?

See full answer. Similarly, it is asked, how did Vasco da Gama navigate?

Vasco da Gama was a Portuguese explorer who sailed to India from Europe. Gold, spices, and other riches were valuable in Europe. But they had to navigate long ways over sea and land to reach them in Asia. Europeans during this time were looking to find a faster way to reach India by sailing around Africa.

Secondly, what was significant about Vasco da Gama's 1497 voyage? The major significance of Vasco Da Gama's voyages was that they opened maritime trade between Asia and Europe and they helped to create a Portuguese empire. Vasco Da Gama was the first European to sail around the continent of Africa to Asia. This allowed Portugal to start trading for spices in Asia.

Subsequently, question is, what was Vasco da Gama's accomplishments?

Vasco da Gama was a successful Portuguese explorer. His most significant accomplishment was sailing from Portugal to India in 1497. The Portuguese were looking for a water route to India. He left Portugal in 1497 and sailed south along the western coast of Africa.

Was Vasco da Gama a good person?

Vasco da Gama was a highly successful Portuguese sailor and explorer during the Age of Exploration. He was the first person to sail directly from Europe to India, around the Cape of Good Hope.

Why Vasco da Gama Went to India

The Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama set sail from Belém, a village at the mouth of the Tagus River now part of greater Lisbon, on July 8, 1497. An obscure but well-­connected courtier, he had been chosen, much to everyone’s surprise, by King Manuel I to head the ambitious expedition to chart a new route to India. The king was not moved chiefly by a desire for plunder. He possessed a visionary cast of mind bordering on derangement he saw himself spearheading a holy war to topple Islam, recover Jerusalem from “the infidels” and establish himself as the “King of Jerusalem.”

Da Gama shared these dreams, but like his hard-bitten crew, rogues or criminals to a man, he coveted the fabled riches of the East — not only gold and gems but spices, then the most precious of commodities. On this voyage, as on his two later ones, he proved a brilliant navigator and commander. But where courage could not bring him through violent storms, contrary seas and the machinations of hostile rulers, luck came to his rescue. He sailed blindly, virtually by instinct, without maps, charts or reliable pilots, into unknown oceans.

As Nigel Cliff, a historian and journalist, demonstrates in his lively and ambitious “Holy War,” da Gama was abetted as much by ignorance as by skill and daring. To discover the sea route to India, he deliberately set his course in a different direction from Columbus, his great seafaring rival. Instead of heading west, da Gama went south. After months of sailing, he rounded the Cape of Good Hope. From there, creeping up the east coast of Africa, he embarked on the uncharted vastness of the Indian Ocean. Uncharted, that is, by European navigators. For at the time, the Indian Ocean was crisscrossed by Muslim vessels, and it was Muslim merchants, backed up by powerful local rulers, who controlled the trade routes and had done so for centuries. Da Gama sought to break this maritime dominance even stronger was his ambition to discover the Christians of India and their “long-lost Christian king,” the legendary Prester John, and by forging an alliance with them, to unite Christianity and destroy Islam.

The ambition was not entirely fanciful there were Christian communities in India, founded according to legend by St. Thomas the Apostle. Da Gama couldn’t tell an Indian Christian from a cassowary, but on this occasion, ignorance was truly bliss. When his ships finally moored at Calicut, near the southern tip of the subcontinent, he and his crew rejoiced to learn that there were indeed many Christians long settled there. As Cliff recounts, the “landing party had assumed that Hindu temples were Christian churches, they had misconstrued the Brahmins’ invocation of a local deity as veneration of the Virgin Mary and they had decided the Hindu figures on the temple walls were outlandish Christian saints.” True, “the temples were also crammed with animal gods and sacred phalluses,” but these surely reflected exotic local Christian practices. What mattered to the Portuguese was that these long-lost Indian Christians permitted images in their “churches.” Thus, whatever their idiosyncrasies, they could not be Muslims. The Portuguese joined in the chants and invocations with gusto. When the Hindu priests chanted “Krishna,” the Portuguese heard it as “Christ.”


Such farcical episodes recur throughout Cliff’s account and add unexpected levity to what is otherwise a dismal record of greed, savagery and fanaticism, especially — but not exclusively — on the part of the European explorers. The Portuguese didn’t know that Hinduism, let alone Buddhism or Jainism, existed. For them, the world was starkly divided between Christianity and Islam. They knew about Jews, of course they’d been steadily persecuting them with renewed vigor in the 1490s by forced conversion, expulsion and massacre, but to them, Judaism was merely a forerunner of Christianity, not a faith in its own right.

Cliff’s narrative covers a huge span of time. For once the term “epic” seems an understatement. Da Gama’s exploits alone demand such terms. His maiden voyage took two years and traversed an extraordinary 24,000 miles, all this in leaky wooden vessels battered by storms and riddled with scurvy, and it was only the first of his three pioneering voyages that together established little Portugal as a world power.

To provide the widest possible context, Cliff begins with the Prophet Muhammad and the rise of Islam in the early seventh century and concludes with the siege of Vienna in 1529 and the subsequent rise of Dutch maritime expansion. His account of early Islamic history is brisk and factual, but it has a somewhat potted feel, as does his chapter on the crusades, for all the horrific detail he provides. This is, after all, well-trodden turf. When he finally comes to Portugal and its succession of zealous, sinister and quite dotty monarchs, he is in his element, and his book really takes off. He has a novelist’s gift for depicting character. From the fabled Henry the Navigator who, despite his appellation, “never set foot on an oceangoing ship,” to Vasco da Gama himself, at once steely and quixotic, to formidable figures like Magellan and the brutal Afonso de Albuquerque, who terrorized his victims by threatening to build a fort out of their bones and nail their ears to the door, he brings 16th-­century Portugal in all its splendor and squalor pungently to life.

Cliff is good too at such mundane but intricate matters as shipbuilding, royal protocols and the hazards of trade, all of which he documents by well-chosen citations from travel accounts, official papers and personal correspondence. Rather surprisingly, however, he fails to bring the great 16th-century Portuguese poet Luís de Camões into his account (though he’s mentioned in the very full bibliography), even though Camões participated in later Portuguese expeditions and wrote his Virgilian-style epic “The Lusiads” in praise of da Gama.

While Cliff spins his tale under the aegis of “holy war” and in his subtitle invokes Samuel P. Huntington's well-worn “clash of civilizations,” on the evidence of his own narrative this framework seems more than a little creaky. Though there was longstanding mutual detestation between Christians and Muslims, the real antagonism seems to have been mercantile. There was no “clash of civilizations” to speak of. The Portuguese gazed in covetous admiration at the trappings of the Muslim courts they visited, and Muslims showed no interest whatsoever in European culture (which they considered pitifully inferior to their own). When they clashed, they did so over lucrative trade routes and territorial hegemony each was quite proudly ignorant of the other’s creed.

Cliff struggles to find relevance to present-day events, but his attempts are unconvincing. He notes, for example, that in 2006, Ayman al-Zawahri, now the head of Al Qaeda, called for the liberation of Ceuta — a North African city besieged by King John of Portugal in 1415 — from the Spanish Christians who now control it. Nevertheless, the real clash today is not between Christianity and Islam, nor between opposing civilizations, but between our own resolutely secular and consumerist culture and a rigid and absolutist mindset outraged by the prosperity Western “infidels” enjoy. That, however, is another epic, yet to be written.

10 interesting facts about Vasco Da Gama

I’ve written an article about the Age of Discoveries, so I obviously had to write about Vasco da Gama, one of the most famous Portuguese explorers! Read on and find out my top 10 interesting facts about Vasco da Gama.

Vasco da Gama is mostly known for uniting Europe and India by sea. He’s a very important figure in the Portuguese history. He traveled and discovered new territories and brought back from his travels new goods and knowledge.

From the fourteenth and seventeenth century, Vasco da Gama’s doings greatly influenced the history but also people’s lives. He found new lands, promoted trade but also spread religious ideals.

In this article, you will find out more about Vasco da Gama and understand the reason why he is one of the most famous Portuguese explorers.

Who was Vasco de Gama? His early life and youth

Vasco da Gama was born in 1469 in the city of Sines. He was the son of Estêvão da Gama, who also was a navigator.

Vasco de Gama spent almost all his childhood in a sailormen and trips environment enriching his knowledge in this matter.

At eighteen years old, Vasco de Gama was already inlisted as ship crew member in charge of patroling Portuguese ports on the African coast, defending them against pirate ships. Also Vasco de Gama at this young age had already crossed the Mediterranean and visited the city of Tânger, in Morocco.

Vasco de Gama was famous for his personality, being described as violent, rude and relentless. Coming from a poor family, he had an inferiority problem and so his ambitions were to achieve great social status and fortune.

What Did Vasco de Gama discovered?

For many years lots of travelers tried to find a direct sea route from Portugal to India to avoid having to deal with merchants and traders from the Mediterranean and Egypt, who were known to impose high taxes for the exchange of their goods.

In July 8th 1497, the King of Portugal ordered Vasco de Gama to discover the sea route from Portugal to India, where he established contact in Calecute, India in May, 17th of 1498, ten months after his departure. Muslim merchants prepared an ambush upon the Portuguese arrival to India, but they failed. Vasco de Gama battled against them and easily claimed the lands to the South East.

With this conquest, the official trade route from Portugal to the lands of the East was finally open, breaking the Arab and Venetians monopoly in the East. He expanded Portuguese trade of merchandise and ideas to the new lands he had found.

He was sent by the King to explore the west

The King Manuel I of Portugal trusted Vasco da Gama to be the leader of an exploration to the west and to serve as the ambassador to the rulers of India as well.

Vasco de Gama was the first person to achieve the status of “Count”, which can be translated to Conde in Portuguese, without being a true blood royal member. He got the title thanks to the many trips and achievements throughout the years serving the King as a Captain of the Charters.

About his crew

For this mission, he travelled with 170 men and four vessels which were the following ones: São Gabriel, São Rafael, Bérrio, and then, São Miguel which was the ship dedicated for supplies.

Vasco da Gama was known to be brutal

Vasco da Gama was known to be kind of brutal and arrogant. Some traits of his personality led to negative relations with the Muslims.

On his first journey to India, he found out that India had already established trade with many different countries, such as Africa and China. This, and the fact that he had an aggressive temper, complicated the establishment of a profitable relations with the natives. Some historians say that Vasco da Gama and his crew were disrespectful towards Hindu shrines and even kidnapped a few locals to be used as interpreters in their next expeditions.

He was a hero for the Portuguese

Thanks to his explorations and discoveries, Vasco da Gama gained major roles in the military and navy. Once he returned to Portugal, he was definitely seen as a hero by the Portuguese. One cannot deny the fact that he played an essential role in Portugal history.

Vasco da Gama greatly contibuted to the wealth of Portugal

During the fifteenth and sixteenth century, India was still quite a mystery. It was an unexplored land where one could find many fine spices and stunning jewelry. Once Vasco da Gama established a trading relationship with India, he created a new source of wealth for Portugal and gave it power.

Portugal economy was on the rise thanks to him

Vasco da Gama’s expeditions along the coast of Africa and to India improved Portugal’s economy and its expansion of trade. Thanks to him and many other explorers like him, Lisbon was once the greatest trading centre of Europe!

His explorations affected the religious world

One of the main reasons for the Age of Discoveries to happen was the spreading of the religion. During Vasco da Gama’s and other explorers travels, many people were converted to Catholicism and were taught the customs of the Christian religion. Throughout the Middle Ages, religion and politics worked together. One wouldn’t work without the other, so many initiatives of the Age of Discoveries originated from the will to expand Christianity.

The Europeans got to discover plenty of new goods

Vasco da Gama’s discoveries introduced the Europeans to plenty of new goods. When he returned home, he would bring many unique spices, fabrics, jewelry and many other stuff the people had never seen, smelled, or tasted before!

So how did Vasco de Gama died?

You might think this great traveler and conquerer died in an honourable way like fighting his way to claim a land or defending his own terretory back in Portugal, but the truth is he did not.

On 1524, Vasco de Gama was sent to India on his third and last trip, with the intention and order from the King of Portugal, to become the Governor of India, replacing Duarte de Meneses who was known to have ruled India till then in a reckless and desastruous manner.

Even though he arrived safely to Goa, India, he soon became ill from a mosquito bite and contracted Malaria, one of the deadliest diseases of the time in the East. Malaria is the name of the disease and it is very common to contract this disease from mosquitos in places like South Africa, Papua New Guinea and India if you do not take the appropriate vaccine.

Despite the fact of being ill, he was still able to claim his title as Vice-King of India and established order in the lands of the East for the brief time he had. Vasco de Gama died on the city of Cochim, on Christmas Eve, December, 24th of 1524.

An additional curious fact

The famous work from Luís de Camões was inspired by the trip Vasco de Gama made to India.

You now know 10 interesting facts about Vasco da Gama! If you know more facts about him, feel free to share them in the comments! Also, if you’re interested in Portugal history, I’ve written a few articles you will probably enjoy: one is about the Carnation Revolution, then you also have one about the Age of Discoveries that will allow you to learn even more about this period of history!

Let’s play a little game: while in Lisbon, visit the area of Belém and go to the Padrão dos Descobrimentos. Have a look at the monument and try to spot Vasco da Gama. If you find him, take a picture and post it on the comments or share it on instagram and tag us @discoverwalks!

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Anna was born and raised in Paris. She studied Languages in Paris and Social Communication in Lisbon. Anna also lived in Madrid for a year. She has been to many places and hopes to go places. Wherever she goes, she always tries to experience each city as locals do. Anna usually has croissants for breakfast in Paris, takes a walk in Camden Town in London, eats lunch in Chiado in Lisbon, and enjoys Madrid's nightlife.

The pillar Vasco da Gama built

Designed using ancient Portuguese architecture, the Vasco da Gama Pillar along the Kenyan coast in Malindi has stood the test of time and is one of the oldest tributes to history.

Did you know that the Vasco da Gama pillar, which stands majestically on a cliff, is the second one built by the seafarer — Vasco da Gama — in the same town?

The first pillar was erected near the Sultan’s palace.

Malindi, just like Mombasa and Lamu, is among the oldest towns in Kenya.


It was strategically placed as a sea route to traders to and from the East Coast of Africa.

Vasco da Gama arrived in Kenya in his endeavour to find a sea route to India.

He was welcomed cordially by the Sultan of Malindi who was then not on talking terms with the Sultan of Mombasa.

Tour guide Josephine Kinyamasyo says because Malindi was Muslim dominated, the Muslim and Christian animosity that reigned could not allow the pillar to stand.

Muslims demolished it because it had a cross, which was seen as encouraging Christianity.

Kinyamasyo says after the demolition of the initial pillar, Vasco da Gama explained to the sultan why the pillar was important and it was then that he was allowed to build the present one on the cliff where it stands.

Today, many visitors to the Coast just see it as a monument, but in real sense it was a landmark that could be seen from far off — more like a lighthouse with no lights at night.

Malindi lay to the west of the pillar while India was to the east.

It was visible to the Portuguese through their binoculars as they approached the sea.

The cross on top of the pillar faces the ocean and was an emblem signifying the route to India.

This antique was built about a century before Fort Jesus in Mombasa, making it one of the oldest European installations in East Africa.

During a tsunami that rocked the Indian Ocean in the recent past, the pillar was threatened, as the reef on which it is grounded was partly disintegrated.

This forced the marine department to place heavy blocks of stone in the water around the reef to break the strong waves.

If you visit the pillar, especially in the evenings, you will find couples whiling time away around it as they enjoy the warmth of the sea breeze.

Photographers have set base here to try and earn their daily bread by offering instant photo services to the visitors.

Some also use this spot as a fishing ground for leisure or sport.

Vasco da Gama Pillar’s together with Fort Jesus and Gede Ruins stand as monumental structures that define the beginning of colonial intrusion into Eastern Africa.

The National Museums of Kenya now manages the pillar and ensures it is protected for posterity.

The pillar is a relatively simple monument, but it means a lot to the history of Malindi, Kenya and Africa as a whole.

Stuff About the Vasco da Gama Pillar You Didn’t Know

The sight of the Vasco da Gama Pillar in Malindi might not elicit much excitement from a visitor who does not know the rich history behind it.

Actually the pillar today is famous not because of its aesthetics, which it does not have anyway, but more because of what it represents – the age of the dawn of exploration.

Built at the end of the 15th century in 1498 by Portuguese explorer, Vasco da Gama, it is one of the oldest European installations in Africa. To see, touch and take photos of it, has been a long overdue bucket list project of mine.

What many may not know is that the pillar that today stands at the edge of a cliff, off of Silversand Road in Malindi, is actually the second one. The first, erected near the Sultan’s palace, where the old courts are today, was demolished by Muslims who felt that the cross at the top might encourage Christianity in Malindi.

The long and short of it is that somehow Vasco da Gama managed to convince the Sultan of the importance of the pillar in Malindi and that is why today it stands where it stands.

It is also not known to many that the bell-shaped pillar was a navigational aid, a sort of lighthouse without the lights. Its primary purpose had been to guide ships passing here to India. It was not to be a monument of Portuguese occupation of Malindi. The pillar was also one of 4 that Vasco da Gama put up during his voyage.

Seafarers arriving at this point would know that Malindi lay to the west of the pillar while India was to the east. The cross, made out of Lisbon stone, while seeming to represent the Christian faith, was actually an emblem signifying the route to India.

The Vasco da Gama Pillar did not always have the shape of a bell that it has today. In 1873, Captain Malcolm built a cone of cement around the pillar to support the cross hence giving it its new look.

This ancient monument that existed a century before Fort Jesus in Mombasa, was ruffled a bit by a tsunami which had hit the Indian Ocean not too long ago. The tsunami had caused the reef on which the pillar is grounded to disintegrate partially.

That now has been sorted out, thanks to a KES 15 million grant from the Portuguese government which also sent its marine engineers to assess the state of the pillar and stabilise the reef with rock boulders to break the strong waves.

Nowadays, I think the pillar serves no critical role, at least not a navigational one, but it still continues to be a pivotal part of Malindi’s landscape.

Everyone you meet tells you not to leave the town before you go to see the Vasco da Gama Pillar. Indeed visitors from around the world flock here to take selfies and portraits in front of it.

In the evening it gets quite romantic as couples arrive to while away the evening as they enjoy the warmth of the sea breeze. For others, a fish catch or 2 for sport is sufficient.

For me, the Vasco da Gama Pillar is a reminder of how, on that July 8, 1497, a man dared to make a historical voyage to a place he had never been to before so his country could benefit from his discovery.

He had set sail equipped with a crew of 170 men aboard a fleet of 4 ships Sao Gabriel, Sao Rafael, Berrio, which was later renamed Sao Miguel and a nameless storage ship.

This 4th ship intrigues me because it is strange for a seaman to set sail with a vessel that has no name, particularly one involved in a voyage of such standing as this was. Usually, ship naming is a near-sacred ritual that is given great significance especially in those days.

The residents of Malindi regard the Vasco da Gama Pillar with a great sense of pride, especially the older ones. It reminds them of how one of their sons, Ahmad Ibn Majid, played a significant role in the success of one of the most monumental voyages in world history.

A skilful navigator familiar with the route to India and versed in navigating the monsoons, Ahmad was hired by Vasco da Gama for 50 gold Cruzados so he could show the way.

I have not yet figured out how much his fee would be in current terms but a Numismatic estimate puts the value of an antique gold cruzado dating back to this time at € 2,200 a piece. Whatever the value, it is highly likely this legendary voyage would never have happened without Ahmad’s input.

Photographers these days camp here hoping they can offer the opportunity of an instant photo or 2, especially for the odd visitor who is not confident they can take a lasting photo to a rare site.

The pillar is recognised as a national monument and is today under the management of the National Museums of Kenya who ensure it is protected for posterity. They charge a small fee, only KES 100.00, hopefully towards its preservation.

If you happen to be in Malindi, make sure the Vasco da Gama Pillar features in your bucket list. As for me, that is 1 bucket list idea done and dusted!

Vasco da Gama (c.1460 - 1524)

Vasco da Gama © Da Gama was a Portuguese explorer and navigator, and the first person to sail directly from Europe to India.

Vasco da Gama was born in about 1460 into a noble family. Little is known of his early life. In 1497, he was appointed to command an expedition equipped by the Portuguese government, whose intention was to find a maritime route to the East.

Setting off in July 1497, da Gama's expedition took advantage of the prevailing winds by sailing south down the coast of Africa, then veering far out into the Atlantic and swinging back in an arc to arrive off the southern African coast. This established a route still followed by sailing vessels. The expedition then rounded the Cape of Good and, after sailing up the coast of east Africa, took on an Arab navigator who helped them reach the Indian coast, at Calicut (now Kozhikode) in May 1498. This voyage launched the all-water route from Europe to Asia.

Da Gama returned to Portugal. The king immediately dispatched another expedition to secure a trading post at Calicut. After hearing of the massacre of all those at the trading post, da Gama sailed for India again in 1502 attacking Arab Muslim ships he met on the way. He forced the ruler of Calicut to make peace and, on his return voyage along the east African coast established Portuguese trading posts in what is now Mozambique.

Back in Portugal, da Gama was granted further privileges and revenues and continued to advise the king on Indian matters. After 20 years at home, in 1524, he was nominated as Portuguese viceroy in India and sent to deal with the mounting corruption among Portuguese authorities there. Arriving in Cochin, he fell ill and died on 24 December 1524. In 1539, his body was taken back to Portugal for burial.


Vasco da Gama was born in 1460 or 1469 [7] in the town of Sines, one of the few seaports on the Alentejo coast, southwest Portugal, probably in a house near the church of Nossa Senhora das Salas.

Vasco da Gama's father was Estêvão da Gama, who had served in the 1460s as a knight of the household of Infante Ferdinand, Duke of Viseu. [8] He rose in the ranks of the military Order of Santiago. Estêvão da Gama was appointed alcaide-mór (civil governor) of Sines in the 1460s, a post he held until 1478 after that he continued as a receiver of taxes and holder of the Order's commendas in the region.

Estêvão da Gama married Isabel Sodré, a daughter of João Sodré (also known as João de Resende), scion of a well-connected family of English origin. [9] Her father and her brothers, Vicente Sodré and Brás Sodré, had links to the household of Infante Diogo, Duke of Viseu, and were prominent figures in the military Order of Christ. Vasco da Gama was the third of five sons of Estêvão da Gama and Isabel Sodré – in (probable) order of age: Paulo da Gama, João Sodré, Vasco da Gama, Pedro da Gama and Aires da Gama. Vasco also had one known sister, Teresa da Gama (who married Lopo Mendes de Vasconcelos). [10]

Little is known of da Gama's early life. The Portuguese historian Teixeira de Aragão suggests that he studied at the inland town of Évora, which is where he may have learned mathematics and navigation. It has been claimed that he studied under Abraham Zacuto, an astrologer and astronomer, but da Gama's biographer Subrahmanyam thinks this dubious. [11]

Around 1480, da Gama followed his father (rather than the Sodrés) and joined the Order of Santiago. [12] The master of Santiago was Prince John, who ascended to the throne in 1481 as King John II of Portugal. John II doted on the Order, and the da Gamas' prospects rose accordingly.

In 1492, John II dispatched da Gama on a mission to the port of Setúbal and to the Algarve to seize French ships in retaliation for peacetime depredations against Portuguese shipping – a task that da Gama rapidly and effectively performed. [13]

From the earlier part of the 15th century, Portuguese expeditions organized by Prince Henry the Navigator had been reaching down the African coastline, principally in search of west African riches (notably, gold and slaves). [14] They had greatly extended Portuguese maritime knowledge, but had little profit to show for the effort. After Henry's death in 1460, the Portuguese Crown showed little interest in continuing this effort and, in 1469, licensed the neglected African enterprise to a private Lisbon merchant consortium led by Fernão Gomes. Within a few years, Gomes' captains expanded Portuguese knowledge across the Gulf of Guinea, doing business in gold dust, melegueta pepper, ivory and sub-Saharan slaves. When Gomes' charter came up for renewal in 1474, Prince John (future John II), asked his father Afonso V of Portugal to pass the African charter to him. [15]

Upon becoming king in 1481, John II of Portugal set out on many long reforms. To break the monarch's dependence on the feudal nobility, John II needed to build up the royal treasury he considered royal commerce to be the key to achieving that. Under John II's watch, the gold and slave trade in west Africa was greatly expanded. He was eager to break into the highly profitable spice trade between Europe and Asia, which was conducted chiefly by land. At the time, this was virtually monopolized by the Republic of Venice, who operated overland routes via Levantine and Egyptian ports, through the Red Sea across to the spice markets of India. John II set a new objective for his captains: to find a sea route to Asia by sailing around the African continent. [16]

By the time Vasco da Gama was in his 20s, the king's plans were coming to fruition. In 1487, John II dispatched two spies, Pero da Covilhã and Afonso de Paiva, overland via Egypt to East Africa and India, to scout the details of the spice markets and trade routes. The breakthrough came soon after, when John II's captain Bartolomeu Dias returned from rounding the Cape of Good Hope in 1488, having explored as far as the Fish River (Rio do Infante) in modern-day South Africa and having verified that the unknown coast stretched away to the northeast. [17]

An explorer was needed who could prove the link between the findings of Dias and those of da Covilhã and de Paiva, and connect these separate segments into a potentially lucrative trade route across the Indian Ocean.

On 8 July 1497 Vasco da Gama led a fleet of four ships [18] with a crew of 170 men from Lisbon. The distance traveled in the journey around Africa to India and back was greater than the length of the equator. [18] [19] The navigators included Portugal's most experienced, Pero de Alenquer, Pedro Escobar, João de Coimbra, and Afonso Gonçalves. It is not known for certain how many people were in each ship's crew but approximately 55 returned, and two ships were lost. Two of the vessels were carracks, newly built for the voyage the others were a caravel and a supply boat. [18]

  • São Gabriel, commanded by Vasco da Gama a carrack of 178 tons, length 27 m, width 8.5 m, draft 2.3 m, sails of 372 m²
  • São Rafael, commanded by his brother Paulo da Gama similar dimensions to the São Gabriel
  • Berrio (nickname, officially called São Miguel), a caravel, slightly smaller than the former two, commanded by Nicolau Coelho
  • A storage ship of unknown name, commanded by Gonçalo Nunes, destined to be scuttled in Mossel Bay (São Brás) in South Africa [8]

Journey to the Cape

The expedition set sail from Lisbon on 8 July 1497. It followed the route pioneered by earlier explorers along the coast of Africa via Tenerife and the Cape Verde Islands. After reaching the coast of present-day Sierra Leone, da Gama took a course south into the open ocean, crossing the Equator and seeking the South Atlantic westerlies that Bartolomeu Dias had discovered in 1487. [20] This course proved successful and on 4 November 1497, the expedition made landfall on the African coast. For over three months the ships had sailed more than 10,000 kilometres (6,000 mi) of open ocean, by far the longest journey out of sight of land made by that time. [18] [21]

By 16 December, the fleet had passed the Great Fish River (Eastern Cape, South Africa) – where Dias had anchored – and sailed into waters previously unknown to Europeans. With Christmas pending, da Gama and his crew gave the coast they were passing the name Natal, which carried the connotation of "birth of Christ" in Portuguese.


Vasco da Gama spent 2 to 29 March 1498 in the vicinity of Mozambique Island. Arab-controlled territory on the East African coast was an integral part of the network of trade in the Indian Ocean. Fearing the local population would be hostile to Christians, da Gama impersonated a Muslim and gained audience with the Sultan of Mozambique. With the paltry trade goods he had to offer, the explorer was unable to provide a suitable gift to the ruler. Soon the local populace became suspicious of da Gama and his men. Forced by a hostile crowd to flee Mozambique, da Gama departed the harbor, firing his cannons into the city in retaliation. [22]


In the vicinity of modern Kenya, the expedition resorted to piracy, looting Arab merchant ships that were generally unarmed trading vessels without heavy cannons. The Portuguese became the first known Europeans to visit the port of Mombasa from 7 to 13 April 1498, but were met with hostility and soon departed.


Vasco da Gama continued north, arriving on 14 April 1498 at the friendlier port of Malindi, whose leaders were having a conflict with those of Mombasa. There the expedition first noted evidence of Indian traders. Da Gama and his crew contracted the services of a pilot who used his knowledge of the monsoon winds to guide the expedition the rest of the way to Calicut, located on the southwest coast of India. Sources differ over the identity of the pilot, calling him variously a Christian, a Muslim, and a Gujarati. One traditional story describes the pilot as the famous Arab navigator Ibn Majid, but other contemporaneous accounts place Majid elsewhere, and he could not have been near the vicinity at the time. [23] None of the Portuguese historians of the time mentions Ibn Majid. Vasco da Gama left Malindi for India on 24 April 1498.

Calicut, India

The fleet arrived in Kappadu near Kozhikode (Calicut), in Malabar Coast (present day Kerala state of India), on 20 May 1498. The King of Calicut, the Samudiri (Zamorin), who was at that time staying in his second capital at Ponnani, returned to Calicut on hearing the news of the foreign fleet's arrival. The navigator was received with traditional hospitality, including a grand procession of at least 3,000 armed Nairs, but an interview with the Zamorin failed to produce any concrete results. When local authorities asked da Gama's fleet, "What brought you hither?", they replied that they had come "in search of Christians and spices." [24] The presents that da Gama sent to the Zamorin as gifts from Dom Manuel – four cloaks of scarlet cloth, six hats, four branches of corals, twelve almasares, a box with seven brass vessels, a chest of sugar, two barrels of oil and a cask of honey – were trivial, and failed to impress. While Zamorin's officials wondered at why there was no gold or silver, the Muslim merchants who considered da Gama their rival suggested that the latter was only an ordinary pirate and not a royal ambassador. [25] Vasco da Gama's request for permission to leave a factor behind him in charge of the merchandise he could not sell was turned down by the King, who insisted that da Gama pay customs duty – preferably in gold – like any other trader, which strained the relation between the two. Annoyed by this, da Gama carried a few Nairs and sixteen fishermen (mukkuva) off with him by force. [26]


Vasco da Gama left Calicut on 29 August 1498. Eager to set sail for home, he ignored the local knowledge of monsoon wind patterns that were still blowing onshore. The fleet initially inched north along the Indian coast, and then anchored in at Anjediva island for a spell. They finally struck out for their Indian Ocean crossing on 3 October 1498. But with the winter monsoon yet to set in, it was a harrowing journey. On the outgoing journey, sailing with the summer monsoon wind, da Gama's fleet crossed the Indian Ocean in only 23 days now, on the return trip, sailing against the wind, it took 132 days.

Da Gama saw land again only on 2 January 1499, passing before the coastal Somali city of Mogadishu, then under the influence of the Ajuran Empire in the Horn of Africa. The fleet did not make a stop, but passing before Mogadishu, the anonymous diarist of the expedition noted that it was a large city with houses of four or five storeys high and big palaces in its center and many mosques with cylindrical minarets. [27]

Da Gama's fleet finally arrived in Malindi on 7 January 1499, in a terrible state – approximately half of the crew had died during the crossing, and many of the rest were afflicted with scurvy. Not having enough crewmen left standing to manage three ships, da Gama ordered the São Rafael scuttled off the East African coast, and the crew re-distributed to the remaining two ships, the São Gabriel and the Berrio. Thereafter, the sailing was smoother. By early March, they had arrived in Mossel Bay, and crossed the Cape of Good Hope in the opposite direction on 20 March, reaching the west African coast by 25 April.

The diary record of the expedition ends abruptly here. Reconstructing from other sources, it seems they continued to Cape Verde, where Nicolau Coelho's Berrio separated from Vasco da Gama's São Gabriel and sailed on by itself. [28] The Berrio arrived in Lisbon on 10 July 1499 and Nicolau Coelho personally delivered the news to King Manuel I and the royal court, then assembled in Sintra. In the meantime, back in Cape Verde, da Gama's brother, Paulo da Gama, had fallen grievously ill. Da Gama elected to stay by his side on Santiago island and handed the São Gabriel over to his clerk, João de Sá, to take home. The São Gabriel under Sá arrived in Lisbon sometime in late July or early August. Da Gama and his sickly brother eventually hitched a ride with a Guinea caravel returning to Portugal, but Paulo da Gama died en route. Da Gama disembarked at the Azores to bury his brother at the monastery of São Francisco in Angra do Heroismo, and lingered there for a little while in mourning. He eventually took passage on an Azorean caravel and finally arrived in Lisbon on 29 August 1499 (according to Barros), [29] or early September [18] (8th or 18th, according to other sources). Despite his melancholic mood, da Gama was given a hero's welcome and showered with honors, including a triumphal procession and public festivities. King Manuel wrote two letters in which he described da Gama's first voyage, in July and August 1499, soon after the return of the ships. Girolamo Sernigi also wrote three letters describing da Gama's first voyage soon after the return of the expedition.

The expedition had exacted a large cost – two ships and over half the men had been lost. It had also failed in its principal mission of securing a commercial treaty with Calicut. Nonetheless, the small quantities of spices and other trade goods brought back on the remaining two ships demonstrated the potential of great profit for future trade. [30] Vasco da Gama was justly celebrated for opening a direct sea route to Asia. His path would be followed up thereafter by yearly Portuguese India Armadas.

The spice trade would prove to be a major asset to the Portuguese royal treasury, and other consequences soon followed. For example, da Gama's voyage had made it clear that the east coast of Africa, the Contra Costa, was essential to Portuguese interests its ports provided fresh water, provisions, timber, and harbors for repairs, and served as a refuge where ships could wait out unfavorable weather. One significant result was the colonization of Mozambique by the Portuguese Crown.

In December 1499, King Manuel I of Portugal rewarded Vasco da Gama with the town of Sines as a hereditary fief (the town his father, Estêvão, had once held as a commenda). This turned out to be a complicated affair, for Sines still belonged to the Order of Santiago. The master of the Order, Jorge de Lencastre, might have endorsed the reward – after all, da Gama was a Santiago knight, one of their own, and a close associate of Lencastre himself. But the fact that Sines was awarded by the king provoked Lencastre to refuse out of principle, lest it encourage the king to make other donations of the Order's properties. [31] Da Gama would spend the next few years attempting to take hold of Sines, an effort that would estrange him from Lencastre and eventually prompt da Gama to abandon his beloved Order of Santiago, switching over to the rival Order of Christ in 1507.

In the meantime, da Gama made do with a substantial hereditary royal pension of 300,000 reis. He was awarded the noble title of Dom (lord) in perpetuity for himself, his siblings and their descendants. On 30 January 1502, da Gama was awarded the title of Almirante dos mares de Arabia, Persia, India e de todo o Oriente ("Admiral of the Seas of Arabia, Persia, India and all the Orient") – an overwrought title reminiscent of the ornate Castilian title borne by Christopher Columbus (evidently, Manuel must have reckoned that if Castile had an 'Admiral of the Ocean Seas', then surely Portugal should have one too). [32] Another royal letter, dated October 1501, gave da Gama the personal right to intervene and exercise a determining role on any future India-bound fleet.

Around 1501, Vasco da Gama married Catarina de Ataíde, daughter of Álvaro de Ataíde, the alcaide-mór of Alvor (Algarve), and a prominent nobleman connected by kinship with the powerful Almeida family (Catarina was a first cousin of D. Francisco de Almeida). [33]

The follow-up expedition, the Second India Armada, launched in 1500 under the command of Pedro Álvares Cabral with the mission of making a treaty with the Zamorin of Calicut and setting up a Portuguese factory in the city. However, Pedro Cabral entered into a conflict with the local Arab merchant guilds, with the result that the Portuguese factory was overrun in a riot and up to 70 Portuguese were killed. Cabral blamed the Zamorin for the incident and bombarded the city. Thus war broke out between Portugal and Calicut.

Vasco da Gama invoked his royal letter to take command of the 4th India Armada, scheduled to set out in 1502, with the explicit aim of taking revenge upon the Zamorin and force him to submit to Portuguese terms. The heavily armed fleet of fifteen ships and eight hundred men left Lisbon on 12 February 1502. It was followed in April by another squadron of five ships led by his cousin, Estêvão da Gama (the son of Aires da Gama), which caught up to them in the Indian Ocean. The 4th Armada was a veritable da Gama family affair. Two of his maternal uncles, Vicente Sodré and Brás Sodré, were pre-designated to command an Indian Ocean naval patrol, while brothers-in-law Álvaro de Ataíde (brother of Vasco's wife Catarina) and Lopo Mendes de Vasconcelos (betrothed to Teresa da Gama, Vasco's sister) captained ships in the main fleet.

On the outgoing voyage, da Gama's fleet opened contact with the East African gold trading port of Sofala and reduced the sultanate of Kilwa to tribute, extracting a substantial sum of gold.

Pilgrim ship incident

On reaching India in October 1502, da Gama's fleet intercepted a ship of Muslim pilgrims at Madayi travelling from Calicut to Mecca. Described in detail by eyewitness Thomé Lopes and chronicler Gaspar Correia, da Gama looted the ship with over 400 pilgrims on board including 50 women, locked in the passengers, the owner and an ambassador from Egypt and burned them to death. They offered their wealth, which "could ransom all the Christian slaves in the Kingdom of Fez and much more" but were not spared. Da Gama looked on through the porthole and saw the women bringing up their gold and jewels and holding up their babies to beg for mercy. [34]


After stopping at Cannanore, Gama drove his fleet before Calicut, demanding redress for the treatment of Cabral. Having known of the fate of the pilgrims' ship, the Zamorin adopted a conciliatory attitude towards the Portuguese and expressed willingness to sign a new treaty but da Gama made a call to the Hindu king to expel all Muslims from Calicut before beginning negotiations, which was turned down. [35] At the same time however, the Zamorin sent a message to his rebellious vassal, the Raja of Cochin urging cooperation and obedience to counter the Portuguese threat the ruler of Cochin forwarded this message to Gama, which reinforced his opinion of the Indians as duplicitous. [36] After demanding the expulsion of Muslims from Calicut to the Hindu Zamorin, the latter sent the high priest Talappana Namboothiri (the very same person who conducted da Gama to the Zamorin's chamber during his much celebrated first visit to Calicut in May 1498) for talks. Da Gama called him a spy, ordered the priests' lips and ears to be cut off and after sewing a pair of dog's ears to his head, sent him away. [37] The Portuguese fleet then bombarded the unfortified city for nearly two days from the sea, severely damaging it. He also captured several rice vessels and cut off the crew's hands, ears and noses, dispatching them with a note to the Zamorin, in which Gama declared that he would be open to friendly relations once the Zamorin had paid for the items plundered from the feitoria as well as the gunpowder and cannoballs. [38] [39]


The violent treatment meted out by da Gama quickly brought trade along the Malabar Coast of India, upon which Calicut depended, to a standstill. The Zamorin ventured to disptach a fleet of strong warships to challenge da Gama's armada, but which Gama managed to defeat in a naval battle before Calicut harbor.


Da Gama loaded up with spices at Cochin and Cannanore, small nearby kingdoms at war with the Zamorin, whose alliances had been secured by prior Portuguese fleets. The 4th armada left India in early 1503. Da Gama left behind a small squadron of caravels under the command of his uncle, Vicente Sodré, to patrol the Indian coast, to continue harassing Calicut shipping, and to protect the Portuguese factories at Cochin and Cannanore from the Zamorin's inevitable reprisals.

Vasco da Gama arrived back in Portugal in September 1503, effectively having failed in his mission to bring the Zamorin to submission. This failure, and the subsequent more galling failure of his uncle Vicente Sodré to protect the Portuguese factory in Cochin, probably counted against any further rewards. When the Portuguese king Manuel I of Portugal decided to appoint the first governor and viceroy of Portuguese India in 1505, da Gama was conspicuously overlooked, and the post given to Francisco de Almeida.

For the next two decades, Vasco da Gama lived out a quiet life, unwelcome in the royal court and sidelined from Indian affairs. His attempts to return to the favor of Manuel I (including switching over to the Order of Christ in 1507), yielded little. Almeida, the larger-than-life Afonso de Albuquerque and, later on, Albergaria and Sequeira, were the king's preferred point men for India.

After Ferdinand Magellan defected to the Crown of Castile in 1518, Vasco da Gama threatened to do the same, prompting the king to undertake steps to retain him in Portugal and avoid the embarrassment of losing his own "Admiral of the Indies" to Spain. [40] In 1519, after years of ignoring his petitions, King Manuel I finally hurried to give Vasco da Gama a feudal title, appointing him the first Count of Vidigueira, a count title created by a royal decree issued in Évora on 29 December, after a complicated agreement with Dom Jaime, Duke of Braganza, who ceded him on payment the towns of Vidigueira and Vila dos Frades. The decree granted Vasco da Gama and his heirs all the revenues and privileges related, [41] thus establishing da Gama as the first Portuguese count who was not born with royal blood. [42]

Watch the video: How did Vasco da Gama Reach India?