Vasco da Gama, 1st Count of Vidigueira (Portuguese pronunciation: [ˈvaʃku ðɐ ˈɣɐmɐ]; c. 1460s – 24 December 1524), was a Portuguese explorer and the first European to reach India by sea. His initial voyage to India (1497–1499) was the first to link Europe and Asia by an ocean route, connecting the Atlantic and the Indian oceans and therefore, the West and the Orient.
Da Gama's discovery of the sea route to India was significant and opened the way for an age of global imperialism and for the Portuguese to establish a long-lasting colonial empire in Asia. Traveling the ocean route allowed the Portuguese to avoid sailing across the highly disputed Mediterranean and traversing the dangerous Arabian Peninsula. The sum of the distances covered in the outward and return voyages made this expedition the longest ocean voyage ever made until then, far longer than a full voyage around the world by way of the Equator.
After decades of sailors trying to reach the Indies, with thousands of lives and dozens of vessels lost in shipwrecks and attacks, da Gama landed in Calicut on 20 May 1498. Unopposed access to the Indian spice routes boosted the economy of the Portuguese Empire, which was previously based along northern and coastal West Africa. The spices obtained from Southeast Asia were primarily pepper and cinnamon at first, but soon included other products, all new to Europe. Portugal maintained a commercial monopoly of these commodities for several decades. It would be a century later before other European powers such as the Netherlands and England, followed by France and Denmark, were able to challenge Portugal's monopoly and naval supremacy in the Cape Route.
Da Gama led two of the Portuguese armadas destined for India, the first and the fourth. The latter was the largest and departed for India four years after his return from the first one. For his contributions, Da Gama was appointed the Governor of India in 1524, under the title of Viceroy, and given the newly created County of Vidigueira in 1519. Vasco da Gama remains a leading figure in the history of exploration. Numerous homages have been made worldwide to celebrate his explorations and accomplishments. The Portuguese national epic, Os Lusíadas, was written in his honour. His first trip to India is widely considered a milestone in world history, as it marked the beginning of a sea-based phase of global multiculturalism.
In March 2016, researchers announced that thousands of artifacts and vessel remains had been recovered from the ship Esmeralda, one of Da Gama's armada, found off the coast of Oman.