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Christopher Columbus, the Italian explorer best known for discovering America, is an interesting character. This post looks at Christopher Columbus’ first voyage – why did he go, who went with him, where was he heading and what did he find? Read on if you want to know…
What triggered this brave first voyage?
Back in the 1400s and before, there was a physical connection between The West and The East. This was known as the Silk Road. It allowed for the safe land passage between Europe and Asia – China as well as south and east Asia, then known as the Indies.
However, it didn’t remain safe forever. In 1453 due to the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks, it became difficult – as well as pretty dangerous – it became difficult to travel to Asia via the Silk Road. The long and short of it is, Christopher Columbus wanted to be the one to find a seaward route to Asia in order to allow for the continuation of trade, political and cultural negotiations and religious interactions between these two parts of the world.
How did Columbus fund his first voyage?
It took Christopher Columbus almost a decade to secure sponsorship for his first voyage. He first presented his plans to King John II of Portugal in 1485 – asking the king to send him off with three study and well-equipped ships, giving him a year to sail to Asia and back again. He also requested that he be made the Great Admiral of the Ocean and be appointed governor of any land he discovered, as well as taking one-tenth of any and all income made from those lands going forward.
The king presented these plans to experts. They rejected it, as they saw Columbus’ estimated travel distance (2,400 miles) as too low. In 1488, Columbus tried again – but he faced another rejection, not helped by Bartolomeu Dias’ discovery of the Cape of Good Hope which provided an eastern sea route to Asia anyway.
Columbus kept trying. He travelled to Genoa, Venice and England but all to no avail. He eventually got an audience with King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in Spain – they also weren’t sure about Christopher Columbus’ plans but in order to keep their options open they gave him an annual allowance. On top of this, they gave him a letter which ordered all towns and cities under their ruling domain to provide Columbus with food and lodging at no cost.
Eventually, in 1492, they gave in. They had just conquered Granada and Columbus went to see them in Córdoba at Alcázar Castle. He eventually managed to persuade Ferdinand and Isabella to fund his journey to the new worlds – the start of Christopher Columbus’ first voyage.
When was Christopher Columbus’ first voyage?
Christopher Columbus’ first voyage departed on August 3rd 1492. It was evening, and the three ships left Palos de la Frontera in modern day Andalusia. He returned to the same port seven months later, on March 15th 1493, with stories to tell and a wealth of experience under his belt.
What did Columbus find on his first voyage?
After a quick stop at the Canary Islands for repairs and provisions, Columbus sailed for five weeks across the ocean. On October 12th a sailor named Rodrigo de Triana spotted the first unknown land. There had originally been promise of a reward for the first person to discover new land on the voyage, but Columbus claimed to have spotted it himself the night before without alerting anybody. Rodrigo de Triana is honoured with a statue in Seville now.
Columbus named this land San Salvador. This literally means ‘holy saviour’, and the land is located in what is now the Bahamas. The natives of the island called it Guanahani. During the rest of this particular voyage, Columbus and his crew went on to find and explore various places:
- The northeast coast of Cuba (28th October onwards)
- Babeque (possibly Baneque, 22nd November)
- The northern coast of Hispaniola (5th December onwards)
- The Bay of Rincon, Northeast Hispaniola (13th January onwards)
During this time, various newsworthy things happened. For example the Santa Maria (Columbus’ largest ship) ran aground on Christmas Day. It was used as a target for cannon fire, in order to show off to the natives. Columbus founded the settlement of La Navidad, at the location of present-day Bord de Mer de Limonade in Haiti. Later, the Pinta and the Niña – the remaining two ships – were separated in a treacherous storm. The Niña stopped at the island of Santa Maria; half of the crew decided to head onto the island and pray in a chapel in order to give thanks for the fact that they survived the storm. But the governor of the island imprisoned them which led to a two day stand off before they were released.
That’s all on the first voyage
There is no doubt Christopher Columbus’ first voyage is one that has absolutely shaped history. While he never quite made it to Asia, he did manage to find plenty of parts of the Americas during his travels – this made up for the fact that his maths was way off in terms of how far away Asia actually was! He is an incredibly interesting character, and one that is fascinating to learn about as he has impacted so much when it comes to travel. You can follow in his footsteps by visiting the port he sailed from or exploring his home town of Genoa. And now YOU know more about him!