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Columbus, Christopher

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Columbus, Christopher (Italian Cristoforo Colombo, Spanish Cristуbal Colуn) (1451-1506), Italian-Spanish navigator who sailed west across the Atlantic Ocean in search of a route to Asia but achieved fame by making landfall, instead, in the Caribbean Sea. Columbus was born in Genoa, Italy. His father was a weaver, and it is believed that Christopher entered this trade as a young man. Information about the beginning of his seafaring career is uncertain, but the independent city-state of Genoa had a busy port, and he may have sailed as a commercial agent in his youth. In the mid-1470s he made his first trading voyage to the island of Khнos (or Chios), in the Aegean Sea. In 1476 he sailed with a convoy bound for England. Legend has it that the fleet was attacked by pirates off the coast of Portugal, where Columbus's ship was sunk, but he swam to shore and took refuge in Lisbon. Settling there, where his brother Bartholomew Columbus was working as a cartographer, he was married in 1479 to the daughter of the governor of the island of Porto Santo. Diego Columbus, the only child of this marriage, was born in 1480.

Based on information acquired during his travels, and by reading and studying charts and maps, Christopher concluded that the earth was 25 percent smaller than was previously thought, and composed mostly of land. On the basis of these faulty beliefs, he decided that Asia could be reached quickly by sailing west. In 1484 he submitted his theories to John II, king of Portugal, petitioning him to finance a westward crossing of the Atlantic Ocean. His proposal was rejected by a royal maritime commission because of his miscalculations and because Portuguese ships were already rounding Africa.

Soon after, Columbus moved to Spain, where his plans won the support of several influential persons, and he secured an introduction, in 1486, to Isabella I, queen of Castile. About this time, Columbus, then a widower, met Beatriz Enriquez, who became his mistress and the mother of his second son, Ferdinand Columbus. In Spain, as in Portugal, a royal commission rejected his plan. Columbus continued to seek support, however, and in April 1492 his persistence was rewarded: Ferdinand V, king of Castile, and Queen Isabella agreed to sponsor the expedition. The signed contract stipulated that Columbus was to become viceroy of all territories he located; other rewards included a hereditary peerage and one-tenth of all precious metals found within his jurisdiction.

First Voyage

The modest expedition consisted of the Santa Marнa, a decked ship about 30 m (about 100 ft) long under his command, and the Pinta and the Niсa, two small caravels, each about 15 m (about 50 ft) long, which were commanded by Martнn Alonzo Pinzуn and his brother Vicente Yбсez Pinzуn. The fleet sailed from Palos, Spain, on August 3, 1492, carrying perhaps 90 men. Three days out, the mast of the Pinta was damaged, forcing a brief stop at the Canary Islands. On September 6 the three vessels again weighed anchor and sailed due west. Columbus maintained this course until October 7, when, at the suggestion of Martнn Pinzуn, it was altered to southwest. Meanwhile, the experienced crews grumbled about their foreign commander's failure to find his way, until signs appeared that they were approaching landfall.

Before dawn on October 12 land was sighted, and early in the morning the expedition landed on Guanahanн, an island in the Bahamas. Before an audience of uncomprehending natives, Columbus claimed that, by right of conquest, their island now belonged to Spain and renamed it San Salvador (“Holy Savior”). Additional landings made during the next few weeks included the islands of Cuba, which Columbus named Juana, in honor of a Spanish princess, and Espaсola, later corrupted to Hispaniola (now the Dominican Republic and Haiti), all believed by Columbus to be in Asian waters.

In December, the Santa Marнa was wrecked off the coast of Espaсola. La Navidad, a makeshift fort, was built of materials salvaged from the vessel, and garrisoned with fewer than 40 men. The Niсa, with Columbus in command, and the Pinta began the homeward voyage in January 1493. After storms drove the ships first to the Azores and then to Lisbon, Columbus arrived at Palos, Spain, in March. He was enthusiastically received

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