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  • 8/3/2010

The Day in History:

Columbus Sets Sail for the New World (1492)


Christopher Columbus (bt. August and October 1451 – May 20, 1506) was an Italian navigator, colonizer, and explorer whose voyages across the Atlantic Ocean led to general European awareness of the Western Hemisphere and of the American continents within.

Though not the first to reach the Americas from Afro-Eurasia — preceded some five-hundred years by Leif Ericson, and perhaps others — Columbus initiated widespread contact between Europeans and indigenous Americans. With his several hapless attempts at establishing a settlement on the island of Hispaniola, he personally initiated the process of Spanish colonization which foreshadowed general European colonization of the "New World". The term Pre-Columbian is sometimes used to refer to the people and cultures of the Americas before the arrival of Columbus and his European successors.

His voyage came at a critical time of growing national imperialism and economic competition between developing nation states seeking wealth from the establishment of trade routes and colonies. In this sociopolitical climate, Columbus's far-fetched scheme won the attention of Queen Isabella of Spain. Severely underestimating the circumference of the Earth, he hypothesized that a westward route from Iberia to the Indies would be shorter and more direct than the overland trade route through Arabia. If true, this would ensure for Spain control of the lucrative spice trade — heretofore commanded by the Arabs and Italians. Following his plotted course, he instead landed within the Bahamas Archipelago at a locale he named San Salvador. Mistaking the North-American island for the East-Asian mainland, he referred to its inhabitants as "Indians" (a general European term for people of the Far East).


Academic consensus establishes that he was born in Genoa, although other minor theories have been posited. The name Christopher Columbus is the Anglicization of the Latin Christophorus Columbus. Also well known are his name's rendering in modern Italian as Cristoforo Colombo, in Portuguese as Cristóvão Colombo (formerly Christovam Colom), and in Spanish as Cristóbal Colón.

The anniversary of the 1492 voyage (vd. Columbus Day) is observed on October 12 throughout the Americas and in Spain.

Source: encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com

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