Vasco da Gama rounded the Cape 514 years ago on 22 November 1497 and changed history in South Africa for ever!
Vasco da Gama (1460-1524) was a Portuguese explorer who discovered an ocean route from Portugal to the East.
Da Gama was born to a noble family in Sines, Portugal. Da Gama’s father Estavao was also an explorer. He was to have made the sea voyage from Portugal to India that eventually made his son famous, but the elder da Gama died before completing the journey.
Vasco da Gama sailed from Lisbon, Portugal, on July 8, 1497, heading to the East. At the time, many people thought that da Gama’s trip would be impossible because it was assumed that the Indian Ocean was not connected to any other seas. Da Gama’s patron was King Manuel I of Portugal.
Da Gama led a fleet of four ships and a crew of 170 men. 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.
Da Gama rounded Africa’s Cape of Good Hope on November 22, and continued on to India. After many stops in Africa, and problems with Muslim traders who did not want interference in their profitable trade routes, da Gama reached Calicut, India on May 20, 1498.
At first, da Gama and his trading were well-received, but this did not last for long. Da Gama left India on August 29, 1498, after he was told to pay a large tax and leave all of his trading goods. When he left, da Gama took his goods with him, together with some Indian hostages.
Da Gama returned to Lisbon, Portugal, in September, 1499. Along the way many crew members died from scurvy (a disease caused by a lack of Vitamin C). Upon his return, da Gama was treated as a hero and was rewarded by the king.
King Manuel I of Portugal then sent da Gama, now an Admiral, on another expedition to India (1502-1503). On this second trip, da Gama took 20 armed ships (anticipating problems from Muslim traders). On this voyage, da Gama killed hundreds of Muslims, often brutally, in order to demonstrate his power.
After King Manuel’s death, King John III sent da Gama to India as a Portuguese viceroy (the King’s representative in India). Vasco da Gama died of an illness in India on December 24, 1524; his remains were returned to Portugal for burial.
There is a navigational beacon named after Da Gama in the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve. The Portuguese government erected TWO navigational beacons, Dias Cross and Da Gama Cross, to commemorate Vasco da Gama and Bartolomeu Dias as explorers who as mentioned were the first explorers to reach the cape. When lined up, the crosses point to Whittle Rock, a large, permanently submerged shipping hazard in False Bay. Two other beacons in Simon’s Town provide the intersection.
The Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve is one of the top attractions on the Cape Point Route and can be visited as part of a Cape Point day tour or for a full day experience all on it’s own. There is a restaurant at the end near the funicular and viewpoint near the old lighthouse, which is a great spot for a 360 meal with a view!
Cape of Good Hope Section of Table Mountain National Park:
Summer Hours: 07:00 – 18:00
Visitor Centre Management: 021 780 9010
Contact Cape Point Route on 021 782 9356 or www.capepointroute.co.za