Imagine, if a bold explorer had pioneered the sea route from Europe to India centuries before Bartolomeu Dias and Vasco da Gama. Well, that’s exactly what the brothers Vadino and Ugolino Vivaldi attempted to do in 1291.
The Vivaldi were Italian merchants close to the wealthy Doria family of Genoa, who probably financed the expedition. (A man named Tedisio Doria accompanied the brothers). Details are scarce, but we know that the brothers set off in two galleys and passed through the Strait of Gibraltar in May, intending to journey across “the Ocean Sea to parts of India and to bring back useful merchandise from there.”
Interestingly, the Genoese annals don’t specify the route they intended to take, leading some historians to suggest they were trying to reach India across the Atlantic, just as Columbus would do 200 years later. However, it remains much more likely that they were planning to hug the coast of Africa, which would have been at least somewhat safer in the primitive galleys of the 13th century.
According to the Genoese chronicler Jacopo Doria, the brothers reached a place known as Gozora before disappearing into the unknown, never to be heard from again. Historians are somewhat divided on the matter, but the most likely explanation is that Gozora refers to the African coast near the Canary Islands, in what is now southern Morocco.
The Genoese admiral Benedetto Zuccaria was cruising the Moroccan coastline with a Spanish fleet at the time, so it’s not surprising that Jacopo Doria would have heard of the brothers passing through. But afterward the Vivaldi passed out of the sphere of European knowledge, and nobody knows where they went or how far they traveled before their voyage reached its end.
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