“The city is very mercantile, and affords an excellent market to all nations. People from all Christian kingdoms resort to Alexandria, from Valencia, Tuscany, Lombardy, Apulia, Amalfi, Sicilia, Raguvia, Catalonia, Spain, Roussillon, Germany, Saxony, Denmark, England, Flandres, Hainault, Normandy, France, Poitou, Anjou, Burgundy, Mediana, Provence, Genoa, Pisa, Gascony, Arragon, and Navarre. From the West you meet Mohammedans from Andalusia, Algarve, Africa, and Arabia, as well as from the countries towards India, Savila, Abyssinia, Nubia, Yemen, Mesopotamia, and Syria, besides Greeks and Turks. From India they import all sorts of spices, which are bought by Christian merchants. The city is full of bustle, and every nation has its own fonteccho (or hostelry) there.”
Of all these nations, the Italians had the shortest voyage to make before reaching Alexandria, and the Eastern trade practically fell into their hands before the end of the thirteenth century. At first Amalfi and Pisa were the chief ports, and, as we have seen, it was at Amalfi that the mariner’s compass was perfected; but soon the two maritime towns at the heads of the two seas surrounding Italy came to the front, owing to the advantages of their natural position. Genoa and Venice for a long time competed with one another for the monopoly of this trade, but the voyage from Venice was more direct, and after a time Genoa had to content itself with the trade with Constantinople and the northern overland route from China. From Venice the spices, the jewels, the perfumes, and stuffs of the East were transmitted north through Augsburg and Nuernberg to Antwerp and Bruges and the Hanse Towns, receiving from them the gold they had gained by their fisheries and textile goods. England sent her wool to Italy, in order to tickle her palate and her nose with the condiments and perfumes of the East.
The wealth and importance of Venice were due almost entirely to this monopoly of the lucrative Eastern trade. By the fifteenth century she had extended her dominions all along the lower valley of the Po, into Dalmatia, parts of the Morea, and in Crete, till at last, in 1489, she obtained possession of Cyprus, and thus had stations all the way from Aleppo or Alexandria to the north of the Adriatic. But just as she seemed to have reached the height of her prosperity—when the Aldi were the chief printers in Europe, and the Bellini were starting the great Venetian school of painting—a formidable rival came to the front, who had been slowly preparing a novel method of competition in the Eastern trade for nearly the whole of the fifteenth century. With that method begins the great epoch of modern geographical discovery.
[Authorities: Heyd, Commerce du Levant, 2 vols., 1878.]
TO THE INDIES EASTWARD—PRINCE HENRY AND VASCO DA GAMA