Cristóbal Colón is credited with the discovery of America;
although the Italian, who thought he was a Spaniard, didn't realise there was another
continent there at all.
Christopher Columbus was born in the busy Italian seaport of Genoa and
would have made many shorter sea voyages during his youth.
Christopher's brother, Bartholomew Columbus, was a cartographer in
Lisbon, where the 25 year-old Cristóbal joined him in 1476.
In 1484 the Portuguese were already working on a way to Asia by going around the coast of Africa, and rejected Christopher's theories that the Indies
could be reached by sailing west around the world.
Columbus moved to Spain, and
initially met similar rejections from a Spanish royal commission. In April 1492 his
persistence finally paid off as Ferdinand V, king of Castile, and Queen Isabella agreed to
sponsor his expedition with promises of riches and nobility for the navigator if his
theories were right.
Christopher Columbus made a total of four voyages from Spain to what
he called the New World, between 1492 and 1504.
The first voyage set sail from Palos, Spain, on August 3rd, 1492, with
Christopher Columbus in the Santa María; accompanied by the Niña and the Pinta, and less
than one hundred men.
The mast of the Pinta was damaged after three days and they were
forced to drop anchor in the Canaries to repair it. The three vessels weighed anchor again
on September 6 and sailed west.
After more than a month at sea, the crew could have been forgiven for
thinking that their commander had lost his way and perhaps his marbles too. Columbus
altered course to the south-west and the men soon saw signs that they were approaching
Early on the morning of October 12th land was indeed sighted, and a
landing party arrived on an island in the Bahamas
and named it San Salvador. The natives must have been surprised to hear that their island
now belonged to Spain.
Over the next few weeks landings were also made on Cuba, named Juana by Columbus, and Española, now
known as Hispaniola and shared by the Dominican
Republic and Haiti. Columbus believed that
they had arrived in the Indies.
The Santa María was wrecked off the coast of Española in December,
and a temporary fort, La Navidad, was built of materials salvaged from the vessel.
Columbus returned to Spain in the Niña, accompanied by the Pinta.
Columbus' fleet on the second voyage was made up of 17 ships and one
and a half thousand men. They left Spain in September 1493 and made landings on the
islands of Dominica, Guadeloupe, and Antigua.
When the fleet arrived at La Navidad, on November 27th, Columbus found
that the fort had been destroyed and its men killed. The colony of Isabella was then
founded as the first settlement of Europeans in the New World.
Columbus went on to explore the coast of Cuba again, and was adamant that they had
found a part of the Asian mainland. Jamaica was
also added to the new map.
Enough about Columbus, his day is past and he treated the natives
poorly. He even tried to introduce them as slaves to Spain.
The continent that celebrates Columbus Day is actually named after
Amerigo Vespucci, another Italian navigator who explored the northern coast of South
America between 1499 and 1500, and told the world that they had discovered a new
Columbus might have beaten us to the Americas, but there is still scope to be adventurous,
and to feel afloat in the sea of chance; with luck the compass and faith the sextant.
Latin America Travel Notes:
All about Latin America and the Caribbean.
Spain wanted a lot of things. It wanted to expand its knowledge of a world that had never
seen. They also wanted to have a larger empire, find spices and other riches, and expand
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