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15 interesting facts about Christopher Columbus

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There are many interesting facts about Christopher Columbus. He was, and continues to be, a notable figure in terms of exploration of the world. But what makes him so remarkably interesting? Read on to find out…

Facts about Christopher Columbus

Christopher Columbus was quite the character. His name is synonymous with the great discovery of America, and most people (in the Western world at least) have heard of him. And he really did live a colourful and exciting life!

Are you ready to learn a bit more about this fascinating historical figure? Here are 15 interesting facts about Christopher Columbus…

He made four different trips to the New World

Here is the first of my facts about Christopher Columbus- Over the course of his life – or at least between 1492 and 1504 – Columbus made four different trips across the Atlantic Ocean.

There wasn’t just one singular voyage.

The trips took him to various places, allowed him to sight new lands and saw him almost perish quite a few times.

He would always have a different sized crew and take a slightly different route.

Columbus was actually trying to get to Asia

Christopher Columbus didn’t have his sights set on America – because, of course, he didn’t know it existed and neither did anyone else in Europe. He was trying to get to Asia.

Europeans in Columbus’s day had always been able to travel safely to south and east Asia (known then as the Indies) as well as China. Their route was called the Silk Road. It linked the eastern and western parts of the world, becoming a central hub for all cultural, political, religious and economic interactions between the different regions.

However, this changed in 1453. The fall of Constantinople meant that this long-travelled land route between Europe and Asia was no longer safe. It became incredibly difficult and dangerous, so Christopher Columbus was determined to find a way there by sea.

His remains have travelled extensively, too

There are plenty of interesting facts about Christopher Columbus but one of the best is that his bones have travelled around almost as much as he did!

He was originally buried in Valladolid, Spain, in 1506. But just three years later he was moved. His remains were, at this point, taken to his family mausoleum which was in Seville.

Much later, in 1542, his son Diego died and in accordance with his will, Columbus’s remains had to be moved again. They were moved to Santo Domingo in Hispaniola, which is actually now in the Dominican Republic.

His bones remained here for years, but then Hispaniola was ceded to France by Spain. So Columbus’s remains were moved – this time to Havana, Cuba. But this wasn’t the end of their journey. Eventually, in 1898, they made their way back across the Atlantic Ocean and were returned to Seville, and today you can even visit the tomb of Christopher Columbus, which is one of the best things to do in Seville.

His name wasn’t actually Christopher Columbus

This perhaps goes without saying, but it’s easy to forget. Christopher Columbus is actually an Anglicisation of his original name – Cristoforo Colombo.

We aren’t the only ones to change his name in this way, though. He is Cristóbal Colón in Spain, and in Sweden he’s known as Kristoffer Kolumbus.

This is one of the more interesting facts about Christopher Columbus, as it opens doors to consider how other names and words have been tweaked and changed over the years: language is a funny old thing.

And he wasn’t actually Italian, either

He sort of was. But Christopher Columbus was born in a place called Genoa, Italy’s sixth-largest city and a bustling port.

At the time of Columbus’s birth and until 1797, Genoa was autonomous – not part of Italy at all. It was the capital of the Republic of Genoa, established way back in 1005.

So while today Columbus would indeed be Italian, at the name he was simply Genoese.

Did you know: Genoa still didn’t become part of Italy until the time of the Italian unification, in 1861 – trade routes were established, bringing power and wealth to the Genoese people.

Columbus wasn’t the first to sight new land…

Among our interesting facts about Christopher Columbus, this is a contested one. But apparently, during the famous voyage of 1492, Columbus promised a reward (a nice pile of gold) to the first person to spot land as they sailed. And this person was Rodrigo de Triana, a sailor who caught the first glimpse of a small island in the Bahamas on October 12th.

But Columbus didn’t pay up, boasting to everyone that he had in fact spotted a hazy bit of light the previous night but didn’t mention it at the time as he wasn’t sure. Columbus went on to name the island San Salvador, and Rodrigo de Triana has been honoured in the form of a statue in a park in Seville.

He was incredibly religious

This is, perhaps, one of the least surprising facts about Christopher Columbus. Christopher Columbus believed that he had been singled out by God to embark on this journey – or rather, these journeys.

This is why many of islands, like the aforementioned San Salvador, has religious names – this example was because Columbus hoped the natives would be able to find salvation in Christ thanks to his help.

In his later life, he would wear a plain Franciscan habit at all times. He was an incredibly wealthy admiral at this point, but looked more like a monk.

Columbus nearly didn’t go on any voyages at all

One of the most shocking facts about Christopher Columbus is that the journeys of this magnitude did not come cheap, and Columbus couldn’t afford it himself.

He spent years begging various courts and monarchies to back him, fund his travels and sponsors his voyages. He was determined to find a sea route to Asia, and needed the cash to do so – but England, Portugal and France all said no.

Spain eventually said yes, despite many people telling the King and Queen (Ferdinand and Isabella) that he had underestimated the length of the journey and so on – this turned out to be true, but as he happened to stumble upon the Americas it didn’t really matter in the end…

He was saved by the moon in Jamaica

This might sound like one of the most bizarre facts about Christopher Columbus, but bear with me!

In 1504, Columbus was stranded in Jamaica. Many of his crew had abandoned him, and the islanders were refusing to give him food or proper shelter.

But Columbus, from his studies, knew that a lunar eclipse was on the way – so he told the islanders that his god was angry with their treatment of Columbus himself. He said that the moon would “rise inflamed with wrath” to prove this, and lo and behold the moon turned red a short while later.

The islanders were quick to bestow food upon Columbus, and ask him to beg his god for their mercy.

Columbus was pretty tall

Another of my interesting facts about Christopher Columbus highlights his looks. According to descriptions, Columbus was well above 5’7” – the average for men during his time period. He was also pale, so he burnt easily, and had a hooked nose with blue eyes and sandy red/blonde hair. Good to know!

He has a day dedicated to him

One of the most contemporary facts about Christopher Columbus is that he has a day dedicated to him.

Christopher Columbus Day is celebrated around the world to mark the anniversary of the explorer’s arrival in the Americas. It is celebrated in many places. The date was 12th October 1492 – although, it would actually have been the 21st October according to the modern Gregorian Calendar. Columbus Day is now celebrated on the second Monday of October each year.

Columbus is a huge part of European and American history, which is why we celebrate Christopher Columbus Day now! This is one of the facts about Christopher Columbus that many people will be familiar with.

Facts about Christopher Columbus- Christopher Columbus timeline

Now that we have looked at a few facts about Christopher Columbus, lets look a bit deeper at his timeline, because this in itself includes many fascinating facts about Christopher Columbus!

1451: The beginning of the Christopher Columbus timeline

At some point before October 31st of this year, Christopher Columbus was born. The exact location isn’t really known, but it was somewhere in the Republic of Genoa. This is now part of modern Italy.

The Italian version of his name, likely the one he was known by at the time, was Cristoforo Colombo. His father, Domenico Colombo, was a middle-class wool weaver who also owned a cheese stand. Christopher Columbus helped his father here from a young age.

1473: Christopher Columbus’ apprenticeship 

Aged 22, Christopher started a business agent apprenticeship for various families. The Spinola, Centurione and Di Negro families were important in Genoa, and this was considered a fantastic opportunity for Columbus. Over the next few years, he travelled to various locations – Chios (an Aegean island, ruled by Genoa at the time), Bristol, Galway and even Iceland.

Christopher Columbus timeline
A handy infographic of the Christopher Columbus timeline.

1477: Columbus in Lisbon

In the autumn of this year, Christopher Columbus travelled to Lisbon, Portugal. His brother Bartolomeo, who worked in a cartography workshop, was based here. Christopher himself decided to relocate to Lisbon and live near his brother – together, they continued trading for the aforementioned Centurione.

Christopher Columbus’ timeline was static for a while, with limited new facts about Christopher Columbus. He remained in Lisbon for eight years, marrying Filipa Moniz Perestrelo here. She was the daughter of Bartolomeu Perestrello – governor of Porto Santo and a Portuguese nobleman.

There has, of course, been questions as to how the son a wool weaver from Genoa manage to marry a noblewoman, the daughter of a Portuguese Knight of Santiago and a noblewoman herself. But her father was dead at this point, leaving her mother Isabel a widow. Christopher did not request a dowry, and the marriage meant that Isabel would no longer have to pay convent bills that she realistically couldn’t afford.

Shortly after he marred Filipa, Christopher Columbus’ first son was born. He was named Diego Columbus, and he was likely born in 1479 or 1480 – though dates are sketchy.

1482-1485: travel and tragedy

During these years, Columbus travelled a lot.

He was trading along the coasts of west Africa as far as Elmina, at the Guinea coast in what is now Ghana. But while he was away, Filipa died. Reports of exactly when and how she perished are incomplete and nobody really knows what happened, but the story goes that it was 1485, and Columbus was in Castile at the time. He returned to Lisbon.

Filipa was buried in the Capela da Piedade – the Chapel of Piety – at the Carmo Convent alongside her sister and brother-in-law. Columbus settled her estate and took their son, Diego, with him on his travels.

1487: Columbus and his mistress

A couple of years after the death of his wife, Columbus found a mistress.

He met Beatriz Enríquez de Arana in Castile. Again, the exact details can’t be confirmed – but historians say that he likely met Beatriz (an orphan, aged 20) when he was in the area of Córdoba.

This was a popular gathering site for Genoese merchants and also where the court of Catholic Monarchs was sometimes located. At some point, Beatriz gave birth to Christopher’s illegitimate son Fernando.

1492: the big voyage begins

Throughout the 1480s, Christopher Columbus’ timeline was peppered with plans to eventually sail to Asia- and create many of the facts about Christopher Columbus that we know today.

Land passage had always been safe enough (via the Silk Road) but after the fall of Constantinople in 1453 it became a bit more difficult. Sea passage was needed! There was a lot to consider – geography, nautical considerations, practicality, funding and more. Eventually, after lobbying and begging for support from various kingdoms, Christopher Columbus came to an agreement with the Spanish crown in April 1492.

A few months later, he was ready. On August 3rd 1492, Christopher Columbus set off with three ships – a carrack and two caravels. He sailed to the Canary Islands, and then onwards for five weeks until he and his crew reached land: an island in what is now the Bahamas. Columbus named this island San Salvador. The natives, however, called it Guanahani.

This particular voyage also took him the northeast coast of Cuba, and to the northern coast of Hispaniola. He continued sailing along this coast before making his final stop, in January 1493, at the Bay of Rincón in northeast Hispaniola. Getting back to Spain was tricky due to storms. So Columbus ended this voyage in Lisbon in March 1493, before travelling back to Spain a week or so later. He had found new lands, despite not quite reaching Asia – and word began to spread throughout Europe.

1493: voyage number two

In September, Columbus tried again. This time he had 17 ships and 1,200 men – with enough supplies to establish permanent colonies. Priests, farmers and soldiers travelled in his midst – they were to be the colonists, or colonisers. After a brief stop at the Canary Islands, Columbus came across various islands. One he named Dominica, and another Marie-Galante. He passed Les Saintes, and stopped at Guadeloupe. Columbus named this island Santa Maria de Guadalupe de Extremadura, and he spent a week in November exploring it.

This exact route of this voyage isn’t certain. But it is agreed that Columbus sighted and named several islands throughout this journey: Redonda, Saint Kitts, Antigua and plenty more. He returned to Hispaniola – the fort he had built during his first voyage, La Navidad on the northern coast oh Haiti, was destroyed and many of the Spanish men he had left behind were dead.

In later November Columbus settled at La Isabela for a short time before returning to Spain. This is now known as the Dominican Republic.

1498: the third voyage and Columbus discovers South America

In May, with six ships this time, Columbus set out once more. Three ships went straight o Hispaniola with supplies for those settled there, and Columbus took the further three ships in another direction – south of the Caribbean, in search of the passage to Asia that he so craved.

While crossing the Atlantic, visiting the Canary Islands and Cape Verde, Columbus discovered what is now known as compass variation. After being stranded for a few days the crew had little water so headed for Dominica – but spotted Trinidad for the first time. He stocked up there before Columbus explored the Gulf of Paria. This was when he touched the mainland of South America.

After plenty of exploration, Columbus returned to Hispaniola. His health wasn’t great at this point. However, the Spanish men he had left there had rebelled against him and there was a lot of drama. Eventually, Columbus made peace with them by surrendering to arrest in 1500. The Crown removed him as governor and he was imprisoned.

1502: the fourth and final voyage

Research led Christopher Columbus to embark on one final voyage. This was in search of the Strait of Malacca to the Indian Ocean. His brother and youngest son, Fernando, came along on this voyage.

They sailed to Arzila, Matinique, Santo Domingo, Jamaica and Central America – exploring Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama. Columbus also sighted the Cayman Islands, got caught in a major storm and found himself (and his men) stranded in Jamaica.

Columbus eventually returned to Spain in November of 1504, with lots of new facts about Christopher Columbus in his pocket.

1505 onwards: Christopher Columbus’ timeline slows down

During his later life, Columbus wrote two books. These were a Book of Privileges and a Book of Prophecies – he also became more and more religious. He continued to argue with the Spanish Crown in regards to the rewards he felt he was owed – a percentage of all profits made in the New World, as promised before he was stripped of his governor title.

In May 1506, Columbus died. He was suffering from Reiter’s syndrome, a type of arthritis. His remains have since been moved multiple times, and Columbus Day is now celebrated on the second Monday in October each year.

Facts about Christopher Columbus: To conclude

There are many fascinating facts about Christopher Columbus- he was a major explorer that helped to shape the history of tourism from the very start. If you have enjoyed this article about the facts about Christopher Columbus, you may enjoy these too: