Christopher Columbus

Christopher Columbus was a famous explorer and navigator during the Age of Exploration from the late 15th century to the early 16th.

He was born on 31 October 1451 in Genoa, Italy. As a boy, Columbus assisted his father at his cheese stand in Italy. In 1476, when he was just 25 years old he set sail. His first voyages took him to the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas, he even sailed down the coast of West Africa.

In the 15th century, Europeans were competitively sending explorers to Asia in search of Indian and Chinese goods. Knowing the Earth is round, Columbus thought that if he travelled west from Europe he could find a new, faster route to the Asia. This may seem ridiculous to us today, but imagine living in Columbus’ time, you wouldn’t have realized how large the Earth was or even that North and South America stood in your way.

In 1492, Columbus began his first voyage with this new route. However, instead of reaching Japan like he intended, he landed on the Bahamas in the Caribbean Sea. Even after finding no sign of India, Japan, or China Columbus thought that he had found the Asian continent. He even called the indigenous people he found ‘indios’, which is Spanish for Indians. After his first voyage Columbus made three more. His second voyage took him to Cuba, his third to Trinidad, and his fourth and final took him to Central America.

Columbus was not the first European to make it to the Americas. After Columbus’ voyages the Europeans competed with each other for which empire could grow the largest and set up the most colonies in the New World.

No one actually knows what he looked like. The most famous painting of Columbus was created after he died on 20 May 1506, so it is most likely not very accurate. However, Columbus’ image lives on in history books and legend.

Text by Sara El-Behiri. Portrait of Columbus c. 1520, artist unknown.