The general survey of the Congo course, carried out by the memorable expedition of H. Stanley in the years 1874-77, represents one of the last great achievements of African geography. Moreover, the existence of this mighty river had already been known for almost 4 centuries, although attempts made repeatedly to go up its course had always failed. The first notion of the mouth of this river is due to Diogo Cão (Diego Cam; v.), Who arrived there on his journey to the western coasts of Africa in 1482-83. To commemorate the event, a large pillar or “padrão” was erected, according to the custom of the time: hence the river called Rio Padrão. The cosmographer Martino Behaim, who was mistakenly believed to have been part of the expedition, would have given him the name of Rio Poderoso, corresponding to its real power. A century later (1578) the Portuguese Duarte Lopez arrived there on his journey to the coast of Angola, and described it as an immense river that the natives called “Zaire”, a name that Portuguese writers then kept for him also because, as Stanley observes, it was consecrated by the Camoēs.
According to SUNGLASSESTRACKER, the name of Zaire – again according to Stanley – would not be a proper name, but a corruption of the word “Nzara-Nzavi” which in the indigenous language means water. However, the name of Congo prevailed in common use in Europe, which was that of an indigenous realm existing on the left of the river and where, from the earliest times, Catholic missions were established that exercised a large influence there. The first widespread information on the towns crossed by the river in its lower section is due to the work of the missionaries who were employed there, especially Italians (GF Romano, Cavazzi, De Carli, Zucchelli, etc.). But the attempts made, as mentioned, to go up its course beyond the first stretch of a few tens of kilometers in which it remains navigable, were unsuccessful, both for the difficulties of navigation, as for the unhealthy climate and the hostility of the residents. No better success was reserved for the great expedition organized in 1816 with great breadth by the British Admiralty to solve the problem of the origin of the river which some thought might have some relationship with Niger, whose delta had not yet been recognized. The English expedition, placed under the command of Captain Giacomo Tuckey, and which included numerous specialists in the various branches of physical and natural sciences, embarked on the ship Congo and on 6 June it reached the mouth of the great river. However, it only managed to go up its course for 100 km., Since the fever that affected most of the crew and which cost the life of the commander and sixteen members of the expedition, forced them to desist from the enterprise. However, we owe it to the first regular topographical and hydrographic survey of the lower Congo.
Later attempts always had unfavorable results and the total reconnaissance of the river had then to proceed starting from its source region. The first trips made in it were those of Dr. David Livingstone (v.), Who in the years 1866-73, exploring the regions west of Tanganyika, recognized the course of the Chambezi, discovering the lakes Moero and Bangueolo, near whose banks he then left his life miserably on 1 May 1873 The intrepid missionary had thus revealed the sources of the Congo, while he believed he had discovered those of the Nile. The following year, Captain V. Lowett Cameron, sent to track down the indefatigable explorer and having learned the news of his end en route, continued his work by reconnaissance of the banks of Tanganyika and discovering his emissary Lukuga, whose course he could not follow but which, due to the information received, he believed he had to unload into the Lualaba and then turn westwards, contrary to the hypothesis that the Lualaba itself belonged to the Nile basin. Although the Cameron could not, as proposed, follow the course of the river from Nyangwe station to its mouth, in the journey he made across the river region between the Zambezi and the Cassai up to Bihé (Angola) he recognized most of the tributaries of left of the great river. It was then up to Stanley the fortune and the merit of putting the design into effect, managing, through difficulties of all kinds, to descend the Congo from Nyangwe (27 October 1876) to Boma (8 August 1877). The course of the river could thus for the first time be traced on the map of Africa. Stanley’s enterprise led to the constitution of the “Committee of Studies for the Upper Congo” and to the formation of the “Independent State” which in 1908 became the great Belgian colony. Limiting ourselves here to mentioning the main events that led to the recognition of the river and its basin, we will recall the journey that in 1879, on behalf of the aforementioned committee, Stanley himself made going up the course of the main river up to the Stanley Falls and that of the its tributaries Coango and Fini; a journey that resulted in the discovery of Lake Leopoldo II; the company of ten. Wissmann who in his crossing of the African continent (1880-1882) from Loanda to Bagamoio extended the reconnaissance of the left tributaries of the Congo; the journey of dr. Wolf and von François, that they descended the Lulua up to the confluence of the Cassai and the Cassai itself up to the Congo; the fruitful explorations of A. Del Commune in the Lukenie and Sankuru basins (1888-89); the voyage of the Grenfell (1884-85), which went up the course of the Ubanghi; the new great journey of the Stanley, to rescue Emin Pasha, in which journey he recognized the course of the Aruwimi and reached Lake Albert, etc.
But now with the foundation of the “independent state” and with the ever greater work that Belgium will carry out there in order to open up to civilization this immense dominion, already known as we have seen, in its general lines, the methodology will be undertaken regular exploration and the itineraries, the astronomical determinations, the topographic surveys will multiply, which will contribute to giving us an increasingly complete cartographic representation, while the reconnaissance and studies concerning the physical geography and geology of the territory, its climatology, will also progress. ethnography, plant and animal life, etc.