Vasco da Gama

Discover fascinating facts about one of Portugal’s best known explorers

See the original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine March 2017


Sailor family

  • The Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama was born in the 1460s (some say it was 1460, others claim it was 1469, Enjoy the Algarve isn’t sure) to a noble family in Sines. He had four brothers and one sister and spent parts of his childhood years on fishing boats.
  • This had to do with Vasco’s father, Estêvão da Gama, who was also a well-known explorer. Estêvão already attempted to sail to India before his son’s famous journey, but died before he could complete the voyage.

Sea route to India

  • Vasco da Gama is best known for being the first European to reach India by sea, starting the European Age of Discovery. He rounded Africa’s Cape of Good Hope and in May 1498, he arrived in Calicut, India. There, he started a trade route and paved the way for Portuguese colonisation of Asia.
  • Apparently he wasn’t such a nice guy though; Vasco didn’t pay his taxes when he was asked to leave India and instead took some hostages. Still, when he got back to Portugal in 1499, with only two of the four ships and 54 of his 170 crew members, he was hailed as a hero.

Further journeys

  • After his first trip to India, Vasco set sail for the country two more times. His goal? Securing Portugal’s dominance in that region. Off he went in 1502 (when he attacked other ships and destroyed an Indian port) and 1524 (when he was appointed Viceroy of India and got pneumonia during the trip).
  • He died in 1524 in Kochi (India) and although his body was first buried there, 15 years later his remains were returned to Portugal. Currently they lie in a tomb of the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos in Belém (Lisbon) which was erected in honour of his voyage to India.

Vasco on the Moon

  • There are plenty of things named after the explorer: many monuments and statues (in the Algarve, there’s a nice one in Lagos), an Indian city, three Brazilian football teams and several ships.
  • You’ll also find him in Lisbon (there’s the Centro Vasco da Gama shopping mall) and even on the Moon. Yes, the Moon. There’s a lunar impact crater that’s named after him, which is located south of the walled plain Einstein and attached to the smaller crater Bohr.


See the original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine March 2017

Posted in Typical Portugal.