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Top 10 Famous Explorers Who Mapped the World


They were brave men who in the course of history from Europe discovered the rest of the world. Some traveled thousands of miles across the country to the east, such as Marco Polo and Ibn Battuta. Most, however, sail across the world’s seas in search of new areas and continents. Names such as Vasco da Gama, Marco Polo, Christopher Columbus and James Cook will remain etched in our memory. Below is a list of 10 famous explorers who have mapped large parts of the world.

Pedro Alvares Cabral

Pedro Alvares Cabral
It may sound a little less familiar, but the Portuguese Pedro Alvares Cabral made a major contribution to the discovery of South America. In the wake of Columbus, Cabral left for India at the behest of the Portuguese crown with a fleet of 13 ships heading southwest for India. On April 22, 1500, Cabral more or less stumbled upon land: present-day Brazil. The crew peacefully made contact with the local Tupi Indians. Brazil would remain a Portuguese colony until 1822.

After a few weeks, Cabral’s fleet continued on its originally planned voyage to India, via a route that circumnavigated the Cape of Good Hope. During the voyage more than half of his ships were lost. Cabral finally reached India on September 13, 1500. The Portuguese king was dissatisfied with the result of the expedition due to the great loss of ships and Cabral would never lead another expedition. In present-day Brazil, however, he is revered as a national hero.
Pedro Alvares Cabral route

Ferdinand Magellan

ferdinand magellan

Magellan was of Portuguese descent but later went to work for the Spanish crown. At the behest of the king of Spain, he sought a western route to sail to the Moluccas, through which Spain wanted to establish a profitable spice trade. With a fleet of five ships, Magellan set out west on September 20, 1519. He first crossed the Atlantic Ocean and sailed a long way south along the coast of South America. He found a passage to the Pacific Ocean between Tierra del Fuego and the South American mainland. This passage was later named the Strait of Magellan after him.

The fleet continued west and crossed the Pacific toward the Philippines. There, Magellan was killed on the beach of Mactan Island on April 27, 1521, during a skirmish with the natives. His crewmen continued their journey, reached the Moluccas and set course for Europe via Africa. Finally, in 1522, only one of the five ships reached its homeland of Spain. This expedition was the first to make a full circumnavigation of the globe.
megellaan route

James Cook

james cook
James Cook is one of the most famous British explorers. Cook had proven his knowledge of cartography and navigation for many years during his service in the Royal Navy. In 1768 he set out on an expedition with the ship Endeavour. During this first trip, he mapped the coasts of New Zealand and eastern Australia. 

During his second expedition (1772 – 1775) he approached what is now Antarctica and also visited the islands of Tahiti, Easter Island and Tonga. His third voyage of discovery (1776 – 1780) took him to Hawaii, the coast of North America and the Bering Strait. He sailed south along the Siberian coast and again reached Hawaii, where he was killed by natives on the island of Maui. The rest of his crew returned to England in 1780.

On all his travels, Cook had draftsmen, biologists and other scientists on board. His expeditions yielded a wealth of drawings and descriptions, not only of the areas discovered, but also of exotic animals and plants.
James Cook routes

John Cabot

john cabot
His real name was Giovanni Caboto, but this Venetian explorer is better known by his English name John Cabot. After Columbus’ “discovery of America” ​​in 1492, Cabot toyed with the idea of ​​exploring the New World and occupying territories himself. He presented his plans to the English King Henry VII, who sponsored his expedition. Cabot departed Bristol for North America in May 1497 with one ship (the Matthew). On June 24, 1497, he reached land, probably the coast of present-day Newfoundland, Labrador or Cape Breton Island (today Canadian territory).

When he arrived back in Bristol on 6 August 1497, the English king was so impressed that he agreed to a second expedition. John Cabot set sail again on February 3, 1498 with 5 ships for North America. One ship was damaged in a storm and anchored off the coast of Ireland. No one ever heard from the rest of the fleet. Recent research would indicate that the remaining 4 ships did reach their target and that the crew even built the first Catholic Church in North America.
john cabot route

Marco Polo

Marco Polo
Marco Polo (1254-1324) was a Venetian explorer ‘avant la lettre’. For 24 years of his life, from 1271 to 1295, he traveled to areas of the Far East that were then completely unknown in the Western world. He visited countries such as India, Persia and China. Marco Polo spent no less than 17 years in China, and under the orders of the Mongol leader Kublai Khan undertook various expeditions in Asia. He visited Tibet and Burma, among others. After 17 years he returned to Venice, where he described his adventures in his book ‘ Il Milione† Marco Polo wrote about the magnificence of the Mongolian court, the use of coal as fuel in China and the existence of the island group Japan. This book had a major influence on the image that people had about the Far East in the Western world at the time.

marco polo route

Ibn Battuta

Ibn Battuta
Morocco also produced a great explorer: Ibn Battuta (1304 – 1368). He visited much of the Islamic world during the 14th century. The main destination of his maiden voyage was the holy city of Mecca, but Battuta took the opportunity to also visit Egypt, Iraq and Iran. His subsequent expeditions took him to the East African coast, Central Asia, India and China. During his last expedition he went to West Africa. He covered more than 120,000 kilometers in his life. He neatly wrote down his experiences in an extensive travelogue, called ‘ Rihla ‘.
ibn beat route

Vasco da Gama

Vasco da Gama
He was a bold man, Vasco da Gama. He was the first to reach India via a route around the African continent. On July 8, 1497, a fleet of three ships led by da Gama set out from the port of Lisbon. It became a journey of almost 10,000 kilometers to India, something that was considered almost impossible at the time.

The expedition had to contend with storms, scurvy among the crew and enemy natives. Occasionally da Gama was forced to fire his ships’ cannons or to take natives hostage. The fleet reached India on 20 May 1498. The retreat was not smooth sailing either: almost half the crew died of scurvy and Vasco da Gama was forced to burn one of his 3 ships. Da Gama arrived back in Lisbon in September 1499.

Da Gama led a second expedition to India in 1502. This voyage was intended as a punitive expedition against the Indian city of Calicut, which he bombarded with cannon fire for two days. Notorious for his brutality, Da Gama was also celebrated as a man who made Portugal a powerful country.
Vasco da Gama route

Christopher Columbus

Christopher Columbus
Columbus was of Genoese descent, but put his talents as an explorer and seafarer at the service of Spain. At the behest of the Spanish king, he set out west across the Atlantic in 1492, where he encountered the American continent. The location where Columbus landed is not exactly determined, but was probably one of the islands of the Bahamas. He would make 3 more trips to America after this historic voyage of discovery, but he always remained convinced that he had reached India.

Christopher Columbus route

Amerigo Vespucci

Amerigo Vespucci, originally from Florence, was a banker and diplomat before becoming an explorer. At the behest of the Spanish king, he undertook an expedition to South America (1499-1500), of which he explored the eastern coast. Afterwards he undertook two more voyages of discovery on behalf of Portugal, also to the coast of South America. Vespucci himself claimed to have led 4 voyages of discovery, but this is questioned by historians. The first journey he described was probably made up. The American continent was named after him.

Amerigo Vespucci route

Leif Eriksson

Although virtually all history books state that Christopher Columbus discovered America in 1492, this honor probably goes to Leif Eriksson. This was an Icelandic explorer who probably set foot on the American continent 5 centuries before Columbus. The exact place where that happened is not known, but it may have been on the island of Newfoundland or on the coast of Labrador in Canada. Thus, the discovery of America probably took place in the early 11th century, and not in 1492 as is commonly claimed.

Leif Eriksson route

Female Explorers

Of course, many brave and adventurous women have also been important in history. Unfortunately, they used to have fewer options and they are therefore in smaller numbers and less known. Nevertheless, we have already written an extensive top 10 about female explorers and adventurers in the past , well worth reading!

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