Vasco da Gama – The Quest for the Spice Islands


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On the 8th of July 1497, the Portuguese discoverer Vasco da Gama left the stormy Lisbon coast, with a fleet of four small ships. No one knew if he would reach his goal. His plan was to discover the sea route to India. Many people had tried and failed. Columbus, the most famous seafarer of all times, had also sought the route to India, but ended up “only” discovering America.


ZDF, arte, Discovery Channel, 2002
Length:  43/53 minutes
Written and directed by: Eike Schmitz
Camera: Manfred Pelz
Editor: Vincent Assmann
Music: Brynmor Jones
Narrator: Jonathan Failla
Commissioning editor: Hans-Christian Huf
German or English version

Even Vasco da Gamas’ expedition was threatened by failure.

Marco Polo had already reported of islands in the Far East in the 13th century. It was said he found gold and spices there, golden palaces, diamonds and ivory. This sparked a hunt for the treasures of the orient. We can even feel the consequences today, in what we call “globalization”. In those days, it had just begun.

Spain and Portugal were the main rivals in the race to India. The Spaniards tried to reach India by traveling westward. The Portuguese chose the East. They sent spies to observe Arab trade routes across the Indian Ocean. Portuguese seafarers probably had even discovered Brazil, during an attempt to sail around the African continent, long before Columbus’ journey. They kept all information secret, which they collected on these expeditions. Stealing sea charts was a crime punishable by death.

The people gave Vasco da Gama a hero’s welcome when he returned from India, after his two year journey with only one cargo load of precious stones and spices. How did the Portuguese manage to discover the sea route to India and why was Columbus wrong?

400 years after the spectacular Portuguese expedition, the only existing eyewitness report of the voyage was found in the library of a monastery. The film attempts, by means of this report, to reconstruct, what really occurred in those days. We follow Vasco da Gamas’ secret route, and we research into the true background of a voyage that changed the world.