On October 12, 1492, Italian explorer Christopher Columbus caught sight of a Bahamian island after sailing across the Atlantic Ocean. He strongly believed that what he found was East Asia. Excited by the discovery, he and his men went ashore the next day and claimed the land for Isabella and Ferdinand, the people who funded his expedition. Columbus was able to convince the king and queen that finding a western ocean route to China, India, and the legendary gold and Spice Islands of Asia was not a farfetched idea.
Little was known of Columbus’s early life aside from the fact that he worked as a seaman and a maritime entrepreneur. He was born on 1451 in Genoa, Italy. One of his greatest dreams was to find a western sea route to Cathay (China), India, and the gold and spice islands of Asia. At the time that his dream was conceived, people still believed that the world was flat instead of round as claimed by theologian St. Isidore. The Europeans were not aware of any other route going to south Asia except that of via Egypt and Red Sea. However, this and the many other available land routes were made off-limits to them by the Ottoman Empire. People then were not aware how big the world really was and were ignorant of the existence of Pacific Ocean. Columbus thought that East Asia was located approximately where the North America sits.
The Italian explorer thought that Atlantic Ocean was the only bridge he needed to cross in order to get access to the riches of East Indies. He then tried to persuade King John II of Portugal to fund his plan which he fondly called “Enterprise of the Indies.” The king rejected his proposal. Not to be discouraged, he presented his plan to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella who rejected him twice. However, things took a different turn for him when Spain won the war against Granada in January 1492. Feeling victorious due to their conquest, the king and queen of Spain obliged to support his expedition.
Armed with three small ships, the Santa Maria, Pinta, and Nina, Columbus left Palos, Spain on August 3, 1492 for the expedition. On October 12, he and his men set foot on land on what must have been the Watling Island on the Bahamas. He caught sight of Cuba later that month which he mistook for mainland China. On December, they landed on Hispaniola but Columbus thought this to be the country of Japan, establishing a colony there with the 39 men that he had. Satisfied with his findings, he brought gold, spices, and “Indian” captives back to Spain on March 1493, a feat that gave him the highest honors from the Spanish court.
Columbus became the first European to have explored the Americas after the Vikings who set up colonies during the 10th century in Greenland and Newfoundland. He led four expeditions in the New World during his lifetime which gave him the privilege of discovering varied Caribbean islands, the Gulf of Mexico, and the South and Central American mainland. Although his dream of finding a western route to the great cities of Asia was never accomplished, he made a great contribution nonetheless to the country of Spain with what he found. Columbus who died in Spain in 1506 was instrumental in finding the New World that made Spain the wealthiest and most powerful nation on earth over the next century.