Journal of the First Voyage of Vasco da Gama to India, 1497−1499


This manuscript is the only known copy of a journal believed to have been written on board ship during Vasco da Gama’s first voyage to India. The lost original of the journal most often has been attributed to Álvaro Velho, who accompanied Vasco da Gama to India in 1497−99, but who did not return to Portugal with the expedition but remained for eight years in Gambia and Guinea. The manuscript is anonymous and undated, but paleographic analysis dates it to the first half of the 16th century. The document describes the voyage to India and contact with different peoples on the coasts of Africa and India. It discusses diseases, plants and animals, hostages, titles and professions, weapons of war, food, precious stones, navigational challenges, and much else. Appended to the main body of the text are a description of some of the kingdoms of the Orient, a list of spices and other merchandise and their prices, and a vocabulary of the Calicut language. In a different handwriting, new titles were added, Descubrimento da India por Vasco da Gamma (Discovery of India by Vasco da Gama) on the cover page, and Relação do descubrimento da India por Vasco da Gamma (Report of the discovery of India by Vasco da Gama) on the front free endpaper. The manuscript was for centuries in the collections of the Monastery of Santa Cruz of Coimbra. In 1834 it was transferred to the Municipal Library of Porto. Vasco da Gama’s voyage around the Cape of Good Hope to India was an event of enormous historical significance. Apart from being one of the great acts of European seamanship, it laid the basis for the Portuguese Empire, which was to last for centuries, and it established new contacts between Europe and the civilizations of Asia, marking an early milestone in the process that later came to be called “globalization.” The journal of Vasco da Gama’s first voyage to India was inscribed on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register in 2013.

Last updated: April 27, 2015