Opening European Trade with Asia
Marco Polo was an Italian merchant whose travels introduced Europeans to Central Asia and China. In the 13th century the traditional trade route leading to China was overland, traveling through the Middle East from the countries of Europe. Marco Polo established this trade route but it required ships to carry the heavy loads of silks and spices. Returning to Italy after 24 he found Venice at war with Genoa. In 1299, after having been imprisoned, his cell-mate recorded his experiences in the book “The Travels of Marco Polo.” Upon his release he became a wealthy merchant, married, and had three children. He died in 1324 and was buried in the church of San Lorenzo in Venice.
Henry the Navigator charted the course from Portugal to the Cape of Good Hope on the southern tip of Africa and is given credit for having started the Age of Discoveries. During the first half of the 15th century he explored the coast of West Africa and the islands of the Atlantic Ocean, in search of better routes to Asia.
Five years after Columbus discovered the West Indies, Vasco da Gama rounded the southern point of Africa and discovered a sea route to India. In 1497, on his first voyage he opened European trade with Asia by an ocean route. Because of the immense distance around Africa, this passage became the longest sea voyage made at the time.
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