Colum­bus sets sail on a world-chang­ing voy­age

The ex­plorer plans to reach Asia, but sur­prises are in store

BBC History Magazine - - Anniversaries -

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

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