Columbus Part 1 – From Scholastic
Christopher Columbus (1451-1506)
When Christopher Columbus sailed west into the unknown waters of the Atlantic Ocean in 1492, he was not trying to prove that the earth is round. In the 1400’s people already were aware of this fact. Nor was he trying to discover a New World. Few Europeans dreamed that such a world existed. Columbus, like many people of his time, dreamed of finding a sea route to Asia. Such a route would lead to a wealth of gold, jewels, and spices. Columbus was convinced that he could reach Asia by sailing west.
The voyage of Columbus proved to be a historic event. It had far-reaching effects, not only on the American continents, but on Europe as well. In addition, historians have recognized Columbus’ navigational skills. He found the best route across the ocean to the Americas. He also found the best eastern route back to Europe. His routes are still used hundreds of years later.
Christopher Columbus (in Italian, Cristoforo Colombo) was born in 1451 in Genoa, in present-day Italy. His father was a poor weaver, and Christopher worked for him. The boy had little schooling. Few people of his day did. Genoa, however, was a thriving seaport. Christopher learned much from sailors’ tales of their voyages. As soon as he could, he went to sea. He made short fishing trips at first. Then he made longer trips with merchants who traded their goods at various ports along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Between voyages he studied mapmaking and geography. In his early 20’s he sailed as a common seaman with a merchant fleet to transport goods to northern Europe. They sailed through the Strait of Gibraltar off the southern coast of Spain and into the Atlantic Ocean.
In 1476, Columbus found himself living in Portugal. Portugal was the greatest European seafaring center of the age. Everything about this center for explorers heated this adventurous young man’s desire to find new and unknown lands. During his years in Portugal he mastered the art of navigation. And he absorbed all he could from the writings of such travelers as Marco Polo, who had voyaged to strange lands as far away as Asia. Polo’s story of his journey to Cathay (China) in 1275 described a land rich in spices, jewels, and silks.