Known as 'the man who discovered America', Columbus was in fact trying to find a westward sea passage to the Orient when he landed in the New World in 1492. This unintentional discovery was to change the course of world history.
Christopher Columbus was born in Genoa between August and October 1451. His father was a weaver and small-time merchant. As a teenager, Christopher went to sea, travelled extensively and eventually made Portugal his base. It was here that he initially attempted to gain royal patronage for a westward voyage to the Orient - his 'enterprise of the Indies'.
When this failed, and appeals to the French and English courts were also rejected, Columbus found himself in Spain, still struggling to win backing for his project. Finally, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella agreed to sponsor the expedition, and on 3 August 1492, Columbus and his fleet of three ships, the Santa Maria, the Pinta and the Niña, set sail across the Atlantic.
Ten weeks later, land was sighted. On 12 October, Columbus and a group of his men set foot on an island in what later became known as the Bahamas. Believing that they had reached the Indies, the newcomers dubbed the natives 'Indians'. Initial encounters were friendly, but indigenous populations all over the New World were soon to be devastated by their contact with Europeans. Columbus landed on a number of other islands in the Caribbean, including Cuba and Hispaniola, and returned to Spain in triumph. He was made 'admiral of the Seven Seas' and viceroy of the Indies, and within a few months, set off on a second and larger voyage. More territory was covered, but the Asian lands that Columbus was aiming for remained elusive. Indeed, others began to dispute whether this was in fact the Orient or a completely 'new' world.
Columbus made two further voyages to the newfound territories, but suffered defeat and humiliation along the way. A great navigator, Columbus was less successful as an administrator and was accused of mismanagement. He died on 20 May 1506 a wealthy but disappointed man.
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