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  • Writer's pictureFrancisca Gigante, MA

A Brief History of Vasco da Gama Bridge in Lisbon

What is Vasco da Gama Bridge?

Vasco da Gama Bridge in Lisbon is the longest bridge in the EU. It opened in 1998 and is named after the famous explorer of the 15th and 16th centuries.

Vasco da Gama bridge

Vasco da Gama Bridge History

The name of this bridge, the longest in the European Union, isn’t exactly subtle or modest. But neither were the achievements of the person it commemorates. The bridge pays tribute to the Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama, renowned for discovering the sea route to India. In 1998, Portugal celebrated the 500th anniversary of da Gama’s arrival in Calicut, India. That year, an international exhibition was held here in Lisbon that brought enormous investment to the city and revitalised much of its infrastructure. Organised by the theme ‘The Oceans: A Heritage for the Future’, the exhibition was planned to coincide with the explorer’s great achievement.

Vasco da Gama was the third son of a nobleman and early on revealed himself to be a prodigious navigator, fighting to defend the Portuguese coast from pirates and invaders. In 1497, he was commissioned by King Manuel I to explore the seas and find the route to India via the South Atlantic. At the time, the connection between India and Europe was only made by treacherous continental routes, including some of the great Silk Roads on which medieval trade had relied. The city of Venice dominated the spice routes, but after Vasco da Gama's discovery, Portugal broke this monopoly, before claiming it for itself.

Clost up of cables on Vasco da Gama bridge

In gratitude for his epic voyage, King Manuel made da Gama Count of Vidigueira. In 1572, the poet Luís de Camões published his epic poem Os Lusíadas, generally considered a masterpiece and for many centuries the most famous canonical literary work written in Portuguese. It details the epic journey of da Gama and his crew – a present commercial reality, rather than a classical myth, though replete with its own perils (two-thirds of the crew died during the voyage). After two successful expeditions to southern India, where a modern city still bears his name, da Gama was appointed Portuguese viceroy in India. However, during his third visit to India the explorer contracted malaria and died. His body was brought back from Cochin, in modern-day Kerala, to Portugal on its last epic voyage.

Construction on the bridge began in 1995 and took just over three years to complete. The 17-kilometre crossing comprises about 100,000 tons of steel; an average of 60,000 vehicles now cross it every day. A week before the bridge's inauguration, a lunch was served to more than 15,000 people, on a table that stretched five kilometres along the crossing. The menu included bean stew, a typical Portuguese dish, and the event gave rise to two Guinness World Records: the record for the longest bridge in Europe but also, more deliciously, the longest table in the world!

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