Columbus was born in Genoa, Italy in 1451. He later lived in Lisbon where he worked as a trader. He learned how to make maps and navigate a ship.
Christopher Columbus was an Italian navigator and explorer whose voyages to the Americas led to the Spanish colonisation of the New World.
He was the first European to land on the South American mainland.
But that does not mean that he discovered America. There were already 100 million people living there.
The first European to reach the North American coastline was the Norseman Leif Ericson who landed in Newfoundland c1000 AD.
People in Europe wanted to find a new route to the Indies, which was the name given to the Far East (Asia) at the time.
Since the fall of Constantinople in 1453 the old Silk Route, along which silk, spices and other luxury items had been traded for centuries, had become difficult and costly to use.
Instead Christopher Columbus landed in the Bahamas. When the Spanish learned that Columus had found a 'New World' some other people, called conquistadors went there. This led to the Spanish colonization of the Americas.
Voyage in 1492
Columbus wanted to find a shorter way to get to Asia. He thought he could get to Asia by sailing west from Europe. He did not know about the countries in the Western Hemisphere and because of that he didn't know that they would block his way.
He did not have enough money to pay for this voyage, so he approached the monarchs of Portugal, England, France and Spain. No one wanted to pay for such an expensive voyage.
Eventually he persuaded the King and Queen of Spain (Ferdinand II and Isabella I of Castile) to pay for the voyage. They agreed to help him because he promised them gold and spices on his return.
In August of 1492, Columbus and his sailors left Spain in three ships: the Santa Maria (the Holy Mary), the Pinta (The painted), and the Santa Clara (the nickname for this ship was The Little Girl).
The three ships were very small. Historians think that the largest ship, the Santa María, was only about 60 feet (18 metres) long, and about 16 to 19 feet (4.8 to 5.8 metres) wide.
Columbus's other ships were even smaller. Historians think they were about 50–60 feet (15–18 metres) long.
Their first stop was the Canary Islands where they collected supplies before settling out across the Atlantic on 6 September of the same year.
The voyage was long and difficult. At one point his men threatened to mutiny and wanted to turn back. Columbus promised them he would turn back in two days if they didn't find land. In his journal, however, he wrote that he had no intention of turning back.
Land was first sighted on 11 October 1492 and on 12 October Columbus landed on an island in the Bahamas which he called San Salvador.
He met Arawak and Taino Native Americans who lived on the island. They were friendly and peaceful towards Columbus and his crew. Not knowing where he was, and thinking that he had reached Asia, the "Indies," he called them "Indians." He claimed their land as Spain's.
Columbus then sailed to what is now Cuba and then onto Hispaniola. On Hispaniola he had his men build a fort. This was one of the first European military bases in the Western Hemisphere. He called it Navidad which is Spanish for 'Christmas'. He left 39 crew members there and ordered them to find and store the gold.
After making his discovery, Columbus was eager to return home to Spain and claim his riches. Only the Pinta and the Nina were able to return to Spain, however, as the Santa Maria wrecked off the coast of Hispaniola.
When he returned he was treated like a hero.
He presented some of the things he had found to the King and Queen of Spain. They included turkeys, pineapples and some natives that he had captured. The King of Spain was very pleased and agreed to pay for future expeditions.
The second voyage on 24 September 1493 was made by 17 boats with 1200 men. The aim of the voyage was to colonise and convert the native people to Christianity.
He made four voyages to the New World. He explored the Greater and Lesser Antilles, Venezuela and Central America.
The native people of the americas were treated very cruelly by Columbus and his men. This led to Columbus being returned to Spain in chains in 1500 and being stripped of his governorship.
Columbus died on May 20, 1506. He died thinking he had discovered a shortcut to Asia across the Atlantic Ocean. He never knew what an amazing discovery he had made.
Columbus was first buried in Spain, however his remains were later moved to Santo Domingo in the new world and then back, again, to Spain.
Columbus brought horses to the new world on his second voyage.
It was Amerigo Vespucci who realised that a new continent had been discovered, so the Americas were named after him rather than Columbus.