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The Cape Route, the route around Africa, the Carreira da Índia or the European-Asian sea route, used to be among the world's most important routes of commerce. The first known completion was made by Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama in 1498.


Ancient and medieval scholars disagreed whether the Atlantic and Indian Ocean were connected. The 15th century expansion of the Ottoman Empire disrupted commerce along the Silk Road, and encouraged Europeans to find a new route to Asia. The voyages of Columbus aimed for Asia, but instead established European contact with the Americas.

Vasco da Gama's discovery of the Cape Route, as well as the Columbian voyages, inspired the Magellan-Elcano circumnavigation.

Most of the Portuguese Empire was founded along the route, as well as most other European colonies on the continent before the late 19th century scramble for Africa. Overseas trade made the Mediterranean and the Silk Road less important for Eurasian commerce (leading to a decline of the Italian city-states), and shifted power to western Europe.

The Clipper Route is an extension, to reach East Asia or Oceania across the central Indian Ocean, and get back via Cape Horn, to make use of the strong westerlies in the "roaring forties".

The Suez Canal, completed in 1867, created a shortcut between the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean. The Suez route was most useful to steamboats, and put an end to the Age of Sail. In the 21st century, the Cape Route is still in use by sailing yachts, and by Capesize ships — the largest vessels, which cannot pass through the Suez Canal.

In some conflicts, vessels have been refused passage through the Suez Canal, resorting to the Cape Route instead; including the Russian navy during the Russo-Japanese war, the Yanagi submarine missions linking Germany and Japan during World War II, and British vessels during the Suez crisis.

The route[edit]

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