Christopher Columbus


Christopher Columbus    1451 - 506

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Christopher Columbus (1451-1506)

Christopher Columbus was one of the greatest sailors and explorers of all time. In 1492, Christopher's exploration to the “New World” linked Europe and the Americas. The term “New World” referred to land not known to the Europeans at that time. Although it was “new” to the Europeans, there were already people living in the Americas.  His travels enlarged the world and began a new age of exploration. 

St. Christopher
Christopher was born in 1451, in Genoa, Italy. Although the exact date of Christopher's birth is unknown, he is believed to have been born between August 25 and October 31.

In Christopher's time, people did not celebrate their birthdays. Instead, they celebrated the feast day of their patron saint. Christopher was baptized in the name of St. Christopher, the patron saint of travelers. St. Christopher's feast day is June 25.

New Trade Route
Beginning in the 1200's, Europe traded with the Far East for spices, jewels, gold, ivory, pearls, and silk. The Far East includes the countries of India, China, and Japan. The Far East is also known as the Indies.

In the mid-1400's, the trade route to the Far East was blocked. Some explorers looked for a new trade route by sailing around the tip of Africa. The tip of Africa is called the Cape of Good Hope.

Christopher, however, looked for a new trade route by sailing west across the Ocean Sea. Today, we call the Ocean Sea the Atlantic Ocean.

The Myths about the Atlantic Ocean
During Christopher's life, explorers stayed close to the known lands of Europe and Africa. They did not sail into the Atlantic Ocean because it was unknown and uncharted. The ocean was thousands of miles wide, and there were no landmarks to guide ships.

People believed the Atlantic Ocean contained monsters and boiling water. No one attempted to sail across the unknown ocean. No one, except Christopher.

October 12, 1492
In 1492, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain supported Christopher's voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. Christopher left from Spain with a crew of 90 men and a fleet of three ships. His three ships were called the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa María.

There were 24 men on the Niña, 26 men on the Pinta, and 40 men on the Santa María. These ships were on the cutting-edge of 1492's technology. The Niña and the Pinta were caravels. A caravel is a small ship with one deck and three masts. The Santa María was a larger and slower-sailing supply ship. Did you know Christopher sailed on the Santa María?

On October 12, 1492, Christopher and his crew spotted land for the first time in three months. Christopher thought he had reached the Far East, but he had actually landed in the Americas.

When Christopher successfully crossed the Atlantic Ocean, the myths about the ocean were dispelled. The Atlantic Ocean was now safe to cross.

The New World
Although Christopher was not the first person in the Americas, he was the first European to make several voyages between Europe and the Americas.

The Europeans called the Americas the "New World" because this world was unknown to the Europeans. Before Christopher, the Europeans believed there were only three continents and one ocean: Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Atlantic Ocean.

When Christopher sailed west across the Atlantic Ocean in search of Asia, he “ran into” the Americas. This was the first time the Europeans realized there were two more continents in the world: North and South America. They would later learn about the Pacific Ocean.

Today, we know there are seven continents (Europe, Asia, Africa, North America, South America, Australia, and Antarctica) and four oceans (Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, and Arctic).

Christopher's Four Voyages
Between 1492 and 1504, Christopher made a total of four voyages to the New World. On his First Voyage, Christopher arrived in the Americas. Christopher made more discoveries on his next three voyages.

On his Second Voyage (1493-1496), Christopher sailed with more than 1,000 men and 17 ships. He established a Spanish colony on Hispaniola. Today, Hispaniola consists of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Christopher also explored Guadeloupe, Puerto Rico, and Jamaica.

Christopher sailed with six ships on his Third Voyage (1498-1500). His brother, Diego, accompanied Christopher. Christopher explored Trinidad (the southernmost island of the Caribbean), South America, and the mouth of the Orinoco River.

Christopher's Fourth Voyage (1502-1504) was called the "High Voyage." He sailed with four ships and 135 men. They crossed the Atlantic Ocean in 21 days. This was the fastest ocean crossing. Christopher also explored the coast of Central America, including Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, and Martinique.

Christopher died on Wednesday, May 20, 1506, in Valladolid, Spain. He was 54 years old. His brother, Diego, and his two sons were by his side.

Christopher was buried at the Franciscan convent in Valladolid, Spain. Christopher's remains were then moved to the Carthusian monastery of Santa Maria de las Cuevas outside Seville, Spain. Since then, they were moved to a new cathedral in Santo Domingo, Hispaniola, and to Havana, Cuba. Today, there has been a disagreement as to where Christopher is buried. There are monuments in both Seville and Santo Domingo claiming to be the resting place of Christopher Columbus.

Remembering Christopher
Christopher's accomplishments are recognized in different countries and in different ways.  Today schools are recognizing both the good and bad during Christopher’s explorations.  While he did bring gold and crops to Europe, disease carried by the new explorers destroyed native populations.  However, Christopher Columbus was a great sailor, explorer, and an excellent navigator by the stars.

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©  2009 D. K. Malowney