The first great wave of expeditions was launched by
Portugal. Its ruler was Henry (1394-1460) generally known as 'the Navigator'.
As a result of his efforts, the Madeira and Azores Islands were discovered. The
main project of Henry the Navigator was the exploration of the West Coast of
Africa. His sailors discovered the Cape Verde Islands. Although Henry died in
1460, his zeal provided stimulus to the Portuguese for further explorations. In
1487 Bartholomew Diaz reached the southern tip of Africa and called it 'the
Cape of Storms' due to a terrible storm he experienced there. Later it was
renamed as 'the Cape of Good Hope' because it provided hope that access to the
Indian Ocean was possible. Vasco da Gama
successfully used this route and reached India in 1498. Vasco da Gama's
discovery of a new sea-route to India was a most significant event in the
history of Europe and Asia.
Next to Portugal, Spain began to explore the sea
route to the east. Christopher Columbus, a Genoese sailor, planned to discover
a new sea route to the East by traveling westwards.
After securing monetary assistance from King
Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, he set sail on August 3, 1492 across the
Atlantic. After a long and difficult voyage he reached an island of the Bahamas
on Oct 12, 1492. He thought that he had reached the shores of India. Therefore,
he called COLOUMBUS the natives of that island Indians. He made three more
voyages and explored the islands in the Caribbean Sea and Central America. These
islands are even today called as the West Indies.
Later in 1501, Amerigo Vespucci, an Italian
navigator, with the support of the king of Spain explored the areas of South
America. He came to the conclusion that what Columbus discovered was not India
but a 'New World'. Therefore the new continent was named as America. However,
Columbus is considered as the discoverer of America.
In 1493, Pope Alexander VI issued a Bull in order to
prevent any dispute between Spain and Portugal in exploring new sea routes and
It is popularly called
the Papal Bull (order of Pope). According to it an imaginary line was drawn
dividing the globe into east and west. Spain was given the right to possess the
lands on the west and Portugal on the east of the Pope's line. Thus, Spain
could not use sea route through the Cape of Good Hope to reach the East Indies.
Therefore, Spain planned to reach the east by
sailing westwards. On August 10, 1519, Ferdinand Magellan had sailed with five
Spanish ships - namely, Trinidad, San Antonio, Concepcion, Victoria, and
Santiago - from the port of Sevilla. The fleet of Magellan crossed an arduous
373-mile long passage on the southern end of South America. This strait is now
named the Strait of Magellan. Then
he entered an ocean which was calmer than the Atlantic. Therefore, he named it
the Pacific Ocean. While crossing
the Pacific, the sailors suffered for want of food and drinking-water. At last,
on March 6, 1521, they reached the Philippines, where Magellan was killed by
the natives. The survivors with the only remaining ship, the Victoria arrived at Sevilla through the
Cape of Good Hope on September 9, 1522. It was the first voyage undertaken
round the world.