Christopher Columbus (Italian: Cristoforo Colombo; Spanish: Cristóbal Colón) made four voyages from Spain to the Caribbean from 1492 to 1503. Though he neither discovered the Americas (as they were already inhabited by indigenous peoples) nor made the first crossing of the Atlantic (the Vikings reached North America 500 years earlier), his voyages had an enormous impact on world history, and started the so-called "Age of Discovery" and European colonialism. He also started the Transatlantic slave trade.
In any case, different forms of the name Columbus (such as his Spanish name Colón) are used for several places in the Americas, including the nation of Colombia. The currency of Costa Rica (and of El Salvador from 1892 to 2001) is the "colón".
Columbus and his men also committed genocides of the indigenous peoples, and forced many indigenous women into sexual slavery. Long overlooked in mainstream Western historical chronicles, the dark side of his legacy is beginning to come to light again and be further explored since the early 2010s.
|I certify to Your Highnesses that in the world I believe that there are no better people nor better land. They love their neighbors as themselves, and have a speech that is sweetest in the world, and mild and always laughing.
—Journal of the First Voyage
In the Middle Ages, trade between Europe and Asia followed the Silk Road through the Byzantine Empire and Mongolian lands. As the Mongol Empire crumbled, and the Ottoman Empire seized the Byzantine capital Constantinople in 1453, European Christians were encouraged to find new ways of commerce.
Columbus was born in Genoa (see Medieval and Renaissance Italy). He toured Europe for seven years to find a sponsor for his voyage, and was turned down by many royal courts, until Spain backed him up. A modern misconception says that the skepticism was based in a belief that Earth was flat. However, scholars of the 15th century were well aware that Earth was round; the disagreement was about its size. Since Ancient Greece, there were accurate estimates that Earth's circumference was about 40,000 kilometres, correctly stating that the voyage westwards to India would be too long to be practical; let alone that the Americas were unknown to Europeans back then. Columbus, however, incorrectly believed that Earth was smaller, which he thought would allow a simple voyage westwards towards Asia.
Though Columbus never reached Asia, contemporary explorers found the Cape Route around Africa. Vasco da Gama reached India in 1498. Ferdinand Magellan launched an expedition that rounded South America, and reached Asia from the Pacific Ocean in 1521, thereby fulfilling Columbus' ambition. His denial of having reached an unknown continent survives in the terms West Indies for the Caribbean, and Indians for the indigenous peoples of the Americas.
Columbus paved the way for the Magellan-Elcano circumnavigation, which was completed in 1522.