Born in 1460 in Sines, Portugal, little is known of da Gama’s early life. Despite coming from a noble family, his first love was the sea. Known as a tough and fearless navigator, in 1497 da Gama was appointed to command a Portuguese expedition to find a new maritime route to Asia.
On 7 July Vasco da Gama set sail, taking advantage of prevailing winds by sailing south down the coast of Africa before rounding the Cape of Good Hope. Sailing up the Eastern coast of Africa, da Gama reached the coast of India at Calicut (now Kozhikoda) in May of 1498. His success in this was to mark a key moment in the history of navigation.
Da Gama had accomplished his mission, opening a trade route with the East by sea. Upon his return to Portugal in 1499 the King immediately dispatched a second expedition to secure a trading post at Calicut.
Following a disastrous massacre of this second expedition at Calicut, da Gama once again sailed for India in 1502. Attacking Arab ships he met on the way, da Gama regained control and made peace.
Back in Portugal, da Gama continued to advise the Crown on Indian matters, in return being granted exclusive privileges and revenues. In 1524, he was nominated Portuguese Viceroy in India, and sent to deal with growing corruption among Portuguese authorities there. Arriving in Cochin, he fell ill and died on 24 December of that year. It was not until 1539 that his body was taken back to Portugal for burial.
Reaching India by sea helped the Portuguese Empire gain a monopoly on many products, some of which were new to Europe. This was to last for much of the following century. Da Gama’s discovery opened the way for an age of global imperialism, and established a long-lasting Portuguese colonial empire in Asia. His travels have gone down in history as a milestone which marks the start of global multiculturalism.