The Kongo Empire was an African kingdom located in southwest Africa in what are now northern Angola, Cabinda, Republic of the Congo, and the western portion of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. At its greatest extent, it reached from the Atlantic Ocean in the west to the Kwango River in the east, and from the Congo River in the north to the Loje River in the south. The empire consisted of six provinces ruled by a monarch, the Manikongo of the Bakongo people, but its sphere of influence extended to the neighboring states as well.
Before the arrival of the Europeans, the Kongo Empire was a highly developed state at the center of an extensive trading network. Apart from natural resources and ivory, the country manufactured and traded copperware, raffia cloth, and pottery.
In his travels along the African coast in the 1480s, Portuguese navigator Diogo Cao first encountered stories of a great empire that controlled trade in the region. In 1483, he visited Manikongo Nzinga in his capital, Mbanza, and persuaded the king to open his country to the Portuguese. Catholic missionaries arrived in 1490, and ten years later the Manikongo himself was baptized and assumed the name Afonso. The king also sent his son Afonso to Portugal to be educated, and one of his grandsons later became the first black African bishop in the Catholic Church. The capital city was renamed Sao Salvador.
In the following decades, the Kongo Empire became a major source of slaves for traders from Portugal and other European countries. This began taking its toll on the Empire, and in 1526, the Manikongo wrote to king Joćo of Portugal, imploring him to put a stop to the practice. His plea went unanswered, and relations between the two countries soured. Severely weakened by a loss of manpower and a victim of incursions by other neighboring states, the Kongo Empire went into decline. The Portuguese saw this as an opportunity to increase the number of slaves being taken from the region. Under increasing pressure from without and within, by the late sixteenth century the country had all but ceased to exist. In 1665, the Portuguese defeated the Kongo Empire in war. Nevertheless, the country continued to exist, at least in name, for over two centuries, until the realm was divided among Portugal, Belgium, and France at the Conference of Berlin in 1884-1885.