Knowledge of Africa has always started from the North; its very name significantly indicates this. It derives, in fact, from a Phoenician word, later taken up by the Romans, which indicated the region of their ancient landings near Carthage. The name of “Ethiopia” is due to the Greeks, which indicated the unknown lands inhabited by people of “black and shiny skin”. For the Arabs, Africa began beyond the Sahara. They were truly the first to penetrate deeply into the continent and this in relation to their spatial and universalistic vocation, to their means of travel (dromedary) suitable for overcoming vast arid spaces. Before the Arabs there were in fact only rapid and uncertain incursions by the Egyptians, the Greeks and the Romans, of peripheral penetration, and this because the large spaces, especially the forest ones, were placed as insurmountable obstacles. The Arab penetration began from the century. VII, a few years after Muhammad’s death . Quickly conquered Mediterranean Africa, the Arabs then pushed into western Sudan reaching Niger and the Lake Chad area., while in East Africa they touched, on the occasion of trade with the East, the economic centers facing the Indian Ocean (Mogadishu, Mombasa, Zanzibar, Sofala etc.). In the Middle Ages, according to countryaah, the exploration of the western African coasts became a vital necessity for Europeans in order to open a way of maritime communication with the East; the unfortunate expedition of the brothers Ugolino and Guido Vivaldi, who disappeared with their ship in the waters of the ocean in an attempt to circumnavigate Africa, dates from this period (1291). But it is only in the century. XV that European sailors arrived on the Atlantic coasts of Africa; it was first the Portuguese who attempted the route of the Indies through the route of SE, Henry the Navigator. In 1434 Gil Eannes doubled Cape Bojador; upon Henry’s death (1460) the Portuguese had reached Sierra Leone. In his first voyage (1482-83) Diogo Cão discovered the mouth of the Congo river and in 1485, during his second voyage, he reached Cape Cross; in 1488 Bartholomeu Diaz first touched the “Cape of the Storms”, later renamed the Cape of Good Hope, reaching as far as the east coast of Africa, at the mouth of the Rio do Infante, today the Great Fish River. In 1497-98 Vasco da Gama skirted Africa, passed the Cape of Good Hope and went up the east coast to Melinde, today’s Malindi, then heading to Calicut, India.
The way to the Indies was thus open and the trans-Saharan trade between Sudan and the Arab world suffered a severe blow to the competitiveness of the maritime trade route. In 1506 Fernão Soarez and João Gomez d’Abreu landed in Madagascar. In the following centuries, the Portuguese, English, French and Dutch intensified travel and trade and only towards the end of the eighteenth century did the systematic exploration of the interior of Africa begin. The initiative was in the hands of geographical societies or individual pioneers, with mainly scientific purposes: one of the main objectives was the discovery of the sources of the major rivers. In 1770 the Scotsman J. Bruce, left from Massawa, visited the sources of the Blue Nile; between 1795 and 1805 another Scotsman, Mungo Park, made two trips along the Niger, a river also reached by the German Hornemann starting from Egypt (1798-1801). In 1822 the explorers D. Denham, W. Oudney and H. Clapperton, departed from Tripoli, crossed the Sahara reaching Lake Chad. The Sahara was later explored by the French R.-A. Caillié, who left from the coasts of Sierra Leone reached Tombouctou and from here went to Morocco, and by the Germans H. Barth, G. Rohlfs and G. Nachtigal. In southern Africa, the explorations of the Scottish missionary David Livingstone are known who, in the course of three expeditions between 1849 and 1873, discovered Lake Ngami, traveled the entire Zambezi basin making known the Victoria Falls and touched the Niassa lakes , Tanganyika, Mweru and the Lualaba River . In 1871 the historic meeting with the American Henry Stanley took place in Ujiji, sent to his research. With the discovery of the sources of the Congo River by Livingstone and Stanley, the great explorations of southern Africa came to an end. However, the Ethiopian region still remained, to whose exploration many Italians contributed, including G. Massaia, R. Gessi, C. Piaggia, G. Casati and V. Bottego who, between 1892 and 1897, explored the course of the Omo rivers and Juba. Still to be remembered are the explorations of K. Peters, considered the founder of German colonial rule. With the end of the century. The heroic and adventurous era of the explorers ends in the nineteenth, to give way to scientifically organized expeditions with great availability of means.