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Bartolomeu Dias (or Diaz)

Portuguese Adventurer & Explorer

Born: 1450

Died: 1500

The first European to see the stormy Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of Africa was Bartholomew Diaz (or Dias), a courageous Portuguese sea captain and explorer. Diaz was one of the great Portuguese seamen who helped find the southeastern water route between western Europe and Asia.

As a youth Diaz entered the hazardous gold and ivory trade along the African Gold Coast and rose to the rank of captain. At this time the Italian cities were growing rich on their trade with India and the Far East. Portugal and other European nations were eager for a share of this trade. However, the Italians controlled the Mediterranean, which was the chief trade route to the East. The Portuguese dreamed of finding an all-water route around Africa. The groundwork was laid by Prince Henry, who had sent ships on voyages down the African coast. Exploration continued under his nephew, King John II. When Diego Cam (or Cao) returned to Portugal with word that he had sailed past the mouth of the Congo River, John planned to send another expedition to sail even closer to the southern end of the continent. He chose Diaz to lead the venture.

With two caravels and a storeship Diaz left Lisbon in August 1487. He sailed straight from Cape Palmas to the mouth of the Congo, then kept close to the coast until he reached Cabo da Volta (present-day Luderitz). About New Year's Day 1488 a gale hit his ships and blew them southward, past the southernmost tip of land. After 13 days he managed to turn east, but found no sheltering shore. Turning north, he sighted Mossel Bay, beyond the Cape of Good Hope. Unknowingly and out of sight of land, he had rounded the cape.

Almost at the entrance to the Indian Ocean, Diaz' crew, weary and afraid, virtually forced him to turn back. On the return voyage he charted the southern waters, and in May 1488 he saw the Cape of Good Hope for the first time. Diaz called it Cabo Tormentoso--"stormy cape."

Diaz was welcomed home in December 1488. The task that he began was completed ten years later by Vasco da Gama, who sailed around the Cape of Good Hope and on to India. Diaz supervised the building of Da Gama's ships.

In 1500 Diaz sailed as one of the captains in a large fleet headed by Pedro Alvares Cabral. Their destination was India, but they made a wide sweep into the South Atlantic and touched on the shores of Brazil. Then they headed southeastward and encountered fierce storms. Four ships went down, and all on board, including Diaz, were drowned.

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