THE AGE OF DISCOVERY
Five years after the Italian Christopher Columbus discovered the Americas in 1492, Vasco da Gama - a celebrated Portuguese explorer from the Age of Discovery - arrived at the Cape of Good Hope, at the tip of the African Horn. He was en route from Europe to India for the first time by sea. Funded by the Portuguese, the voyage was to discover a new route to the riches of the East, which bypasses the disputed waters of the Mediterranean and the dangerous overland routes of Arabia. Da Gama’s voyage is to force open a channel by ship, connecting Europe with India, China and Central Asia. It was to be a more reliable, a much cheaper, and a safer journey that cuts Venice out of the lucrative trade. For centuries, Venice dominated the overland channels to the East. The terrain was harsh and arid, and difficult to navigate. And camel caravans bringing back the precious goods could only carry a fraction of the weight that is carried by the deep hulls of a ship. News of the Portuguese expedition travelled at the speed of a propelled gondola. With a more efficient means of transportation looming in the horizon, this meant the Europeans would not use Venice as an intermediary stopover port.
Overnight, Venice went bankrupt with banks shutting their doors. Systematically, trade ceased and the influx of travellers passing through the city canals came to a standstill. The island was frozen, and Venetians became paranoid, because as the world’s greatest sailors the sea is what brought them wealth and riches. They might have dominated the waters of the Mediterranean with a powerful fleet of ships, but their vessels were small and round - more adapted to gentle tides as opposed to the rougher waters of the new route. Unfortunately, because of this the Venetian age of dominance over the Spice Route had come to an end. But one effect of the Italian Renaissance was that Venice became the chief European centre for publishing. It translated much of the scientific knowledge it’s merchants brought home from voyages overseas, to Latin and Italian. The most important scientific books printed in Venice were the Canon; a medical reference by the Persian physician Ibn Sina. Also, a commentary on the work of the Greek philosopher Aristotle by the 12th century philosopher Ibn Rushd.
And the Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing, detailing the work of the Persian mathematician Ibn Mūsā Al Khwārizmī, which introduced the Latin-speaking world to algebra. Finally, there was also the complete iconic work of the ancient Roman architect Vitruvius, and his architectural encyclopaedia, De Architectura. An enterprising Venetian bookseller even tried to publish his own version of the first printed Koran, but the text was marred by errors and the copy did not attract the mass Arabic market. Precisely, the 15th century saw the Venetian publishing industry printing a large bulk of the scientific work recovered in Moorish Spain, and large parts of the East. It ranged from work on medicine, anatomy, philosophy, astronomy and mathematics. This was in addition to an extensive repository of art, ceramics, maps and manuscripts. In doing so, Venice became the hinge between the east and west. And to conclude, the 16th century sparked an age of exploration and agressive competition between European naval superpowers.