Bartholomew Diaz portrait

Bartholomew Diaz

Bartolomeu Diaz was born in 1450 in Algavre, Portugal. Little is known about his youth. Before he began traveling, he was the supervisor of the magazines of King John II. On October 10, 1486, he was appointed commander of an expedition to circumnavigate the southern tip of Africa in the hope of finding a new, safer and more profitable trade route with India and finding a mythical kingdom managed by the legendary Priest John.

He set out on the expedition in August the following year. Until then, the Portuguese sailors under the protectorate of Henry the Navigator were discovering the areas of the Atlantic Ocean, southern Europe and western parts of Africa to the Cape Verde Islands and today’s Sierra Leone. During these trips they gained enough knowledge about sailing and winds to enable future expeditions to travel further distances. In the early 1480s, Diego Cao discovered the estuary of the Congo River and sailed south of Ecuador to today’s Angola and Namibia.

Diaz’ expedition to the south of Africa

The expedition further south was provoked by Father Dias and Bartolomeu himself was somehow forced to prepare an expedition under the ultimatum of killing his crew. The expedition consisted of three ships and was ready in 1486. Diasa, Sao Cristóvao was controlled by Pero de Alenquera.

The second caravel called Sao Pantaleao was commanded by Joao Infante and controlled by Álvaro Martins. Dias’s brother Pero, who commanded the ship supporting the expedition, also took part in the expedition, while Joao de Santiago was the helmsman. The expedition sailed south along the west coast of Africa. Along the way, travelers managed to replenish their supplies at the Portuguese fortress on the Gold Coast. Sailing further south from the area of ​​today’s Angola, on December 8, 1487, Dias reached the bay of Walvis (modern Namibia).

Then he sailed further south, where he discovered Port Nolloth, after which the expedition experienced a terrifying storm. After two weeks, they found themselves in the open ocean from where Diaz wanted to find the coast, which failed, but discovered western winds and ocean vortices. He was aware of the old Venetian maps of 1460 and the knowledge acquired by travelers from other expeditions, he knew that on the other side of Africa is the Indian Ocean and therefore still headed to the southeast.

Circling the southern coast of Africa, it changed course east and, taking advantage of the strong Antarctic winds, further north-east. After a month in the open sea, he came across a place he called St. Blaise Bay (later Mossel Bay). The Portuguese expedition reached its furthest point on March 12, 1488, when it reached Kwaaihoek next to the mouth of the Boesmans River.

Bartolomeu wanted to continue his journey towards India, but his crew’s revolt due to food shortages forced him to take a return course. All officers also voted unanimously to return to Portugal. And really it was only on the way back that Dias discovered the Cape of Good Hope, it was May 1488. Originally Dias called this place Cape of Storms, but King John II decided to change the name, because it bode well for future trade activities with the East. Dias returned to Lisbon in December the same year after almost 16 months away from home.

Preparations for the Vasco da Gama expedition to India

After his success, the Portuguese for 10 years gave up further exploration of the Indian Ocean, for this they received valuable information from the serving crown of the Portuguese diplomat and traveler, Pero da Covilha, who was sent to India from where he brought useful information for navigators.

Based on his travel experience, Dias helped build two ships – Sao Gabriel and Sao Rafael, which were used by Vasco da Gama in 1498, who continued the Bartolomeu mission. What’s more, Diaz prepared the expedition and participated in it himself, but only in its first stage, until the expedition reached Cape Verde. The discovery of an alternative route to India was very significant because for the first time in history, Europeans could trade with India and the Far East bypassing the land without using the services of incredibly expensive brokers and guides.

Bartolomeu Diaz’ second expedition

Two years later he was one of the captains of the second expedition, which was to lead the Portuguese to India. The expedition was commanded by Pedro Alvares Cabral. In 1500 the fleet reached Brazil and then continued its journey east to India. Unfortunately, this was the last expedition of the Portuguese explorer, on May 29, 1500, he died near the Cape of Good Hope during a storm.

However, this is not entirely confirmed, because coins from later periods were found on the wreck of the ship found in 2008. Dias was married and had two children. His files and accounts of the expedition were kept at the castle of Sao Jorge in Lisbon. Unfortunately, the castle burned down during the earthquake in 1755, and with it Dias accounts. Later, historians most likely recreated Dias’s travel route from 1488.

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