Columbus sets sail on a world-changing voyage
The explorer plans to reach Asia, but surprises are in store
Earlyin the morning on 3 August 1492, Christopher Columbus set off from the Andalusian port of Palos de la Frontera on the most famous expedition in history.
For years the Genoese navigator had been trying to interest the monarchs of Europe in his pet project of a voyage across the Atlantic to reach the spice-rich lands of east Asia. At first the Portuguese royals seemed interested but they were seeking their own new trade route around Africa. So Columbus turned instead to Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, who had just completed the conquest of the Iberian peninsula by crushing the last Muslim redoubt at Granada. By April, they had struck a deal. If Columbus succeeded, he would get the title of admiral of the oceans and viceroy of any lands he conquered, as well as a tenth of all the profits. As for Ferdinand and Isabella, they would receive the wealth and bounty of Asia.
By the start of August, Columbus’s fleet was assembled, with his chief ship, the Santa Maria, to be accompanied by the Niña and the Pinta. As he reported to his patrons, he departed “well supplied with provisions and with many sailors, on the third day of August… being Friday, half an hour before sunrise, taking the route to the islands of Canaria, belonging to your Highnesses, which are in the said Ocean Sea, that I might thence take my departure for navigating until I should arrive at the Indies.”
Some 36 days later, Columbus stepped onto the sands of the Bahamas, to be greeted by a nervous but friendly crowd of islanders. He never made it to Asia. But he had changed the world.
Columbus’s fleet of ships – the Pinta, Niña and Santa Maria – on his fateful voyage of 1492, as depicted in a 19th-century illustration