Who Was the First Person to Sail from Europe round Africa to the East?
Portuguese explorer Prince Henry, also known as the Navigator, was the first European to methodically explore Africa and the oceanic route to the Indies. From his residence in the Algarve region of southern Portugal, he directed successive expeditions to circumnavigate Africa and reach India.
In 1420, Henry sent an expedition to secure the uninhabited but strategic island of Madeira. In 1425, he tried to secure the Canary Islands as well, but these were already under firm Castilian control. In 1431, another Portuguese expedition reached and annexed the Azores.
In 1488, another Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias (c. 1450-1500) became the first European mariner to round the southern tip of Africa, opening the way for a sea route from Europe to Asia. Dias’ ships rounded the perilous Cape of Good Hope and then sailed around Africa’s southernmost point, Cabo das Agulhas, to enter the waters of the Indian Ocean.
Portugal and other European nations already had long-established trade ties to Asia, but the arduous overland route had been closed in the 1450s due to the Ottoman Empire’s conquest of the remnants of the Byzantine Empire.
A major maritime victory for Portugal, Dias’ breakthrough opened the door to increased trade with India and other Asian powers. It also prompted Genoan explorer Christopher Columbus (1451-1506), then living in Portugal, to seek a new royal patron for a mission to establish his own sea route to the Far East.
Vasco da Gama (c. 1460-1524), also an Portugese explorer and navigator, was the first person to sail from Europe round Africa to the east. His expedition, which was sponsored by the king of Portugal, set off in 1497, rounded Cape of Good Hope and sailed up to East Africa.
He was then guided across the sea to India, reaching Calicut in May 1498. His voyage opened up trade with the East Indies and also led to the foundation of Portugal’s overseas empire.