This Day In History: Columbus Discovers America (1492)

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On this day in 1492, Christopher Columbus sights land in the modern West Indies. He is the first European to set sight of land in the Americas since the Vikings. He had sailed the Atlantic Ocean in three ships that he had received from the Spanish monarchy. He believed that the world was round and that if one was to sail to the west across the Atlantic that you could reach Asia. When Columbus saw the land he mistook it for some island off the coast of Asia, in fact, it was an island in the modern Bahamas that he had discovered.

The voyage of Columbus was to change history.  About the man himself, we know very little other than he was born in Genoa in Italy in 1451. He was an experienced seaman and he had travelled widely. Columbus was a first class navigator and he became obsessed with reaching the Asia and of discovering a western route to Japan and the famed Spice Islands. At this time there was no direct route to Asia from Europe and Europeans were very eager to reach Asia for trade. In particular, they sought the spices of Asia, which were hugely valuable at this time.

Columbus was not alone in believing that the world was round and most educated Europeans did. However, Columbus was unique in that he argued that if the world was round then it was possible to reach Asia by sailing due west across the Atlantic. He traveled around Europe seeking support for his ideas but no monarch would provide him with funds.  Columbus was rebuffed by among others the King of Portugal. After this, he went to Spain and he was twice rejected by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. However, after their conquest of the Muslim kingdom of Granada in 1492, they agreed to sponsor Columbus expedition.

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Columbus meeting Ferdinand and Isabella

Columbus sailed from Palos in Spain. His expedition consisted of the ships, the Santa Maria, the Pinta, and the Nina. On this date in history, the expedition reached land, they sighted what was most likely Watling Island in the Bahamas.  Columbus later also landed on Cuba. In 1493 he and his men arrived home in triumph with gold and slaves.   Columbus was to command 4 further expeditions to the Americas and eventually discovered what  proved to be mainland America. However, he continued to believe that he had discovered a new route to Asia and not an new continent. Columbus was later to fall into disfavor with the Spanish Court and he was even sent back to Spain in chains. He died in 1506 not realizing what he had achieve. His voyage was to lead to the establishment of a great Spanish Empire in the Americas, that would last for hundreds of years.

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