The Cape of Good Hope is a formation of land along the south coast of Africa. Rounding it by ship has come to represent the transition from the Atlantic Ocean to the Indian Ocean in the east, as CAPE HORN at the southern end of South America does so between the Atlantic Ocean and Pacific Ocean in the west.
There is some confusion as to the identity of the first nonnative peoples to round the Cape of Good Hope. A fifth-century B.C. Greek historian, HERODOTUS, made the claim of an expedition by the Phoenicians, sponsored by NECHO II of Egypt, in about 600–597 B.C. A 15th-century cartographer, Fra Mauro, gave credit to the Chinese for accomplishing the feat in 1420.
The first European known to have sailed around the southern extent of Africa is Portuguese BARTOLOMEU DIAS. Hoping to find a sea-lane around Africa to the SPICE ISLANDS (Moluccas) in the Indian Ocean, he embarked on his voyage in 1487. After encountering unfavorable winds along Africa’s south coast, he sailed southward and, when the winds shifted, continued eastward. He made landfall at Mossel Bay. By checking his navigational measurements, he realized that he had passed the southern tip of the continent.
He continued up the coast as far as the Great Fish River. On the return trip to Portugal, in the summer of 1488, he set up a PADRÃO (pillar) at the place that is now known as the Cape of Good Hope. Sources vary as to whether he gave it that name, or named it Cabo Tormentoso, for “Cape of Storms,” after the weather he encountered there, and that King John II of Portugal renamed it Cabo da Bõa Esperança, or “Cape of Good Hope.” In 1497, VASCO DA GAMA, also sailing for Portugal, rounded the Cape of Good Hope and continued on to India, establishing a new trade route between Europe and Asia. From that time, such journeys became
The Cape of Good Hope is referred to in general usage as the southern tip of Africa. Yet, the southernmost point on the African continent is actually located at Cape Agulhas, 34 degrees and 52 minutes south latitude, some 40 miles southeast of the Cape of Good Hope. Moreover, on the projection of land referred to as the Cape of Good Hope, there are actually two points equally to the south, about a mile apart with a stretch of water between them. Although the Cape of Good Hope is located in the most temperate zone of the African continent, it is not easy to navigate its waters. The winds in the region circulate fiercely from the west, much like the winds around Cape Horn, and the weather is unpredictable and the seas often rough. The surrounding land is inhospitable. It was not until the mid-16th century that settlements were established to reprovision ships sailing past on their way to other destinations. The modern city of Cape Town, South Africa, is situated to the north of the Cape of Good Hope.