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2. Vasco da Gama
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Vasco da Gama Tower, Vasco da Gama Bridge, Vasco da Gama Center, Vasco da Gama Aquarium, Vasco da Gama Garden… The list of monuments, places, and entities named after Vasco da Gama is extensive, not only in Portugal. This is a reflection of the importance and magnitude that the navigator and his discovery of the sea route to India had in the course of history. Born in Sines in 1469 (as believed), Vasco da Gama was the son of Estevão da Gama, the alcaide-mor of Sines, and Isabel Sodré. However, there is not much information and records about the navigator before his great voyage. The existence of other contemporaries with the same name also does not make the investigation easy. Moreover, it is known that his father had another son named Vasco da Gama before getting married. The first certain news about the man who became a hero of the nation is related to “prima tonsura,” a religious ceremony on November 5, 1480. “Enrollment in the Order of Santiago is the only fact of the navigator’s life that is properly documented until 1492,” confirms the Municipality of Sines in the online biography of Vasco da Gama.

In the early 1490s, he was already a knight of the Order of Santiago and a nobleman of the Royal House, but it was in 1492 that the first unequivocal reference to Vasco da Gama appeared when he was appointed by King John II to seize French ships in the ports of Setúbal and Algarve in retaliation for the capture of a Portuguese caravel by French pirates. Vasco da Gama executed the task quickly and efficiently. The navigator, who left Lisbon on July 8, 1497, was the captain-major of four ships: the São Gabriel, commanded by Vasco da Gama himself and whose pilot was the experienced Pêro de Alenquer; the São Rafael, under the orders of his brother Paulo da Gama; the caravel Berrio, commanded by Nicolau Coelho; and finally, the supply ship called Redonda, commanded by Gonçalo Nunes.

After a troubled journey that circumnavigated the African continent and then followed unknown seas, Vasco da Gama arrived in Calicut, India, on May 17, 1498. In October of the same year, the return journey began, and the navigator arrived in Lisbon in the summer of 1499. It was a glorious journey with a worthy reception, but with a large number of losses, including his brother Paulo da Gama. Of the approximately 150 to 170 men who had made up the crew, it is estimated that only a little over a third returned.

With the discovery, Vasco da Gama became a member of the Royal Council, and he was granted the titles of Dom and Admiral of India. He returned to India twice more, the last time in 1524, the year he fell ill and died in Cochin. Later, his remains were brought to Portugal, and he was buried in the Jerónimos Monastery in Lisbon.