The Italian explorer Christopher Columbus is famous the world over for discovering the Americas in 1492 quite by accident and thereby changing world history.
Christopher Columbus was born in the Italian city of Genoa on 31 October 1451 and his parents, three brothers and sisters moved around regularly. Columbus kept diaries of his journeys and within an early version claims to have first gone to sea aged just 10 years old. After sailing throughout his teens, he then took up an apprenticeship with an Italian business agent at the age of 22. It was here that Columbus cut his teeth in the seafaring trade, sailing to England, Ireland and Iceland handling valuable cargo. Aged 28 Columbus landed in Lisbon, Portugal, met and married his wife and settled down, making Portugal his base. He continued to trade along the West African coast, learning both the Latin and Portuguese languages along the way. He also read widely on a variety of subjects including history, geography and astronomy.
Columbus was planning to journey west to explore the Orient and tried unsuccessfully to get Portuguese royal patronage for his ‘enterprise of the Indies’. His estimated journey of 2,400 miles (3,860 km) was deemed far too low. In fact Columbus sought assistance from the Portuguese, Italian and English crown too, all of which were rejected. Columbus eventually found his saviour in the Iberian monarchs King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella after two years of negotiations, who agreed to finance the planned expedition.
On 3 August 1492, Christopher Columbus set sail across the Atlantic Ocean with a fleet of three ships; Santa Maria, Pinta and Niña. His aim was to find a westward sea passage that would land him in the Orient.
Just ten weeks later on 12 October, the sailing party landed at the first land mass, which was later named the Bahamas. Columbus and crew wrongly assumed that they’d reached the Indies and named the locals ‘Indians’. The ships also explored Cuba, Hispaniola and the Dominican Republic although Columbus was forced to leave 39 crew members in Haiti after he had to abandon the Santa Maria.
Upon his arrival back to Spain in March 1493, word of his new discoveries has already spread across Europe, rendering Columbus triumphant. He was declared an Admiral of the Seven Seas and also made a Viceroy of the Indies.
Just a few months later in September Columbus set off again in a second attempt to journey to the Orient, replete with 17 ships containing supplies and a crew of 1,200 which was an attempt to populate the Indies. Columbus traversed the islands of the Lesser Antilles, sighted the Virgin Islands, navigated the Greater Antilles and eventually landed in Puerto Rico. The desired lands remained elusive however and there was doubt as to whether Columbus had actually discovered the Orient or a whole new land all together.
His third exploration departed in May 1498 and his ships skirted along the northern coast of South America, landing on Trinidad Island and in northern Venezuela. His fourth and final foray took in much of the eastern Central America coast and headed back via Cuba and Hispaniola. During these voyages he suffered hostility and defeat from the locals and was later imprisoned for a short period after his heavy-handed rule as governor.
Columbus suffered many health problems later in life, and died aged 54 as a very wealthy but bitterly disappointed man.
Columbus Day is celebrated as an annual holiday throughout the Americas and falls on 14 October 2013 and 13 October 2014.