The Vasco da Gama Pillar is a historical monument located on the seafront road along the beach in Malindi, Kenya. Erected in 1498 by the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama, it is one of the oldest European installations in Africa. The pillar, made of Portuguese limestone, was originally built as a navigational aid to guide ships from Europe to India.
It is one of four pillars that Vasco da Gama erected during his voyage and served as a symbol of the cultural exchange between the Portuguese and the local people. Despite its simple appearance, the Vasco da Gama Pillar has become a popular attraction for tourists visiting Malindi and holds significant cultural and historical importance for the town’s people. It is a testament to the age of exploration and the enduring legacy of Vasco da Gama’s voyage.
The Voyage of Vasco da Gama and the Construction of the Pillar
Vasco da Gama is credited with discovering the sea route from Europe to India, a feat that was achieved during his voyage in 1497-1498. He set sail with a crew of 170 men aboard a fleet of four ships – the Sao Gabriel, Sao Rafael, Berrio (later renamed Sao Miguel), and a nameless storage ship. The Pillar was one of four pillars Vasco da Gama erected during his voyage to serve as navigational aids.
The purpose of the Vasco da Gama Pillar was to guide ships passing by Malindi to India. Seafarers arriving at this point would know that Malindi lay to the west of the pillar while India was to the east. The cross, made of Lisbon stone, was an emblem signifying the route to India, although it also represented the Christian faith.
The role of Ahmad Ibn Majid in the success of Vasco da Gama’s voyage cannot be overstated. He was a local navigator and cartographer who provided Vasco da Gama with valuable knowledge about the monsoon winds and the route to India. Vasco da Gama’s voyage may not have been as successful without his assistance.
The History of the Vasco da Gama Pillar in Malindi
The original location of the Pillar was near The Sultan’s palace, where the old courts are located today. However, it was later moved to its current location after it was demolished by Muslims who felt the cross at the top might encourage Christianity in Malindi. It needs to be clarified how Vasco da Gama convinced the Sultan of the importance of the pillar in Malindi. Still, the pillar likely served as a symbol of the cultural exchange between the Portuguese and the local people.
In 1873, Captain Malcolm built a cement cone around the pillar to support the cross, giving it its current bell-shaped appearance. The Pillar was also damaged by a tsunami that hit the Indian Ocean in the recent past, causing the reef on which it stands to disintegrate partially. The reef was later stabilized with rock boulders to break the strong waves, thanks to a grant of KES 15 million from the Portuguese government.
The Cultural and Historical Significance of the Vasco da Gama Pillar in Malindi
The Vasco da Gama Pillar holds a great deal of cultural and historical significance for the people of Malindi. It serves as a reminder of the town’s role in the success of Vasco da Gama’s voyage and the cultural exchange between the Portuguese and the local people. The residents of Malindi, particularly the older generation, feel great pride in the pillar and its history.
The Pillar is also a popular tourist attraction in Malindi. Visitors worldwide flock to the pillar to take selfies and portraits in front of it. In the evening, it becomes a romantic spot for couples to enjoy the warmth of the sea breeze and watch the sunset. For others, it is a place to go for a fish catch or two for sport.
Despite no longer serving a critical maritime role, the Pillar remains a pivotal part of Malindi’s landscape. It serves as a reminder of the age of exploration and the daring spirit of Vasco da Gama, who set out on a voyage to a place he had never been to benefit his country.
The Pillar is also a symbol of the cultural exchange between the Portuguese and the local people of Malindi. The addition of the cone of cement in 1873 by Captain Malcolm and the restoration of the pillar following damage from the tsunami shows the importance of preserving the legacy of the pillar for future generations.
The Vasco da Gama Pillar is a testament to Malindi, Kenya’s rich cultural and historical history. Erected in 1498 by the famous Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama, it serves as a reminder of the age of exploration and the role that Malindi played in the success of Vasco da Gama’s voyage. The pillar is a symbol of the cultural exchange between the Portuguese and the local people, and its enduring presence in the town is a source of pride for the residents of Malindi.
Not only is the Pillar a popular tourist attraction, but it also holds great significance for the people of Malindi as a reminder of their history and cultural identity. Preserving the pillar for future generations is important for keeping the memory of its history alive and for continuing to celebrate the cultural and historical heritage of the town.