Discoverers and Explorers


Both the Spaniards and the Portuguese were cut off from trade with the East, because the Turks had taken possession of Constantinople. In consequence of this, the navigators of both countries were making earnest efforts to find a water route to India.

Spain, as you know, had faith in Columbus, and helped him in his plan of trying to reach India by sailing westward. But the Portuguese had a different idea. They spent their time and money in trying to sail round the African coast, in the belief that India could be reached by means of a southeast passage.

This southeast passage could be found only by crossing the "burning zone," as the part of the earth near the equator was called; and all sailors feared to make the attempt.

It was thought almost impossible to cross this burning zone, and the few navigators who had ventured as far as the equator had turned back in fear of steaming whirlpools and of fiery belts of heat.

In 1486, six years before Columbus discovered America, the King of Portugal sent Bartholomew Diaz, a bold and daring navigator, to find the end of the African coast.

Bartholomew Diaz sailed through the fiery zone without meeting any of the dreadful misfortunes which the sailors so feared. When he had sailed beyond the tropic of Capricorn, a severe storm arose. The wind blew his three vessels directly south for thirteen days, during which time he lost sight of land. When the sun shone again, Diaz headed his vessels eastward, but as no land appeared, he again changed the direction, this time heading them toward the north. After sailing northward a short time, land was reached about two hundred miles east of the Cape of Good Hope.

Diaz now pushed on four hundred miles farther along the coast of Africa, and saw the wide expanse of the Indian Ocean before him. Here the sailors refused to go any farther, and Diaz, although he wanted very much to go ahead and try to reach India, was obliged to return.

On the way home, the vessels passed close to the cape which projects from the south coast of Africa, and Diaz named it Stormy Cape, in memory of the frightful storm which hid it from view on the way down. When they reached Lisbon, however, King John said that it should be called the Cape of Good Hope, because they now had hope that the southern route to India was found.

Diaz won much praise for his bravery and patience in making this voyage. He had proved that the stories about the fiery zone were false, and that the African coast had an end.

It remained, however, for Vasco da Gama, then a young man of about twenty years of age, to prove that India could be reached in this way.

In 1497 Da Gama sailed from Lisbon to the Cape of Good Hope, doubled the cape, and proceeded across the Indian Ocean to Hindustan.

He returned to Lisbon in 1499, his ships loaded with the rich products of the East, including cloves, spices, pepper, ginger, and nutmeg. He also brought with him rich robes of silk and satin, costly gems, and many articles made of carved ivory, or of gold and of silver.

The King of Portugal was greatly pleased with what Da Gama had accomplished, and his successful voyage was the wonder of the day.

The same year that Da Gama returned from India by a route around the south end of Africa, with his ships loaded with rich produce, Sebastian Cabot returned from a fruitless voyage to the strange, barren coast of North America.

It was no wonder that the voyages of Columbus and the Cabots were thought unsuccessful as compared with the voyage Da Gama had just finished.

No one then dreamed of a New World; all were searching for the Orient—for golden Cathay.

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