Having made several voyages from Portugal down the west coast of Africa, Bartholomeu Dias was recognized as one of the most knowledgeable of the Portuguese explorers on the subject of the waters off of the Dark Continent when, in August of 1487, he was tapped by the Crown to open a trans-African trade route to India.

Six months after starting out, he made history by landing on the southeast coast of Africa -- the first European to do so. It seemed that he was well on his way to fulfilling his charter, but after making more progress, the crew of his two ships, not only losing faith but also having lost their separate supply ship, encouraged Dias to turn back prematurely, leaving a spot in the history books open for Vasco da Gama to reach India and lay the foundation for trade some 10 years later.

Upon his return to Lisbon in December of 1488, he reported to the court and to the public the details of his journey. In the audience, paying close attention, and furiously taking notes, was another accomplished seaman, from Genoa, Italy, by the name of Cristoforo Colombo.