Died: 20 May 1506
Birthplace: Genoa, Italy
Best known as: The explorer who opened the door to the Americas
Christopher Columbus sailed from Spain across the Atlantic Ocean in 1492, landing in the "new world" of the Americas and gaining lasting fame. Using ships and money provided by Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castille, Columbus sailed west in search of a sea passage to India. He had two goals: open trade routes for Spain and bring the word of Jesus Christ to the non-Christians he expected to meet. He sailed with three ships (the Niña, Pinta and Santa Maria) and on his first trip made landfall somewhere in the Bahamas. He returned to Europe to spread the word, and was named "Admiral of the Ocean Seas" by Ferdinand and Isabella. He made three more voyages in the following years, always believing that he had reached Asia, and his success opened the door for Spain to conquer the Americas. Five centuries after his daring voyage, Columbus is still famous but is also the subject of heated discussions about whether he was a good-guy hero who discovered new worlds or a not-so-nice guy who helped grab the Americas from their native inhabitants. Still, he has long been known as the man who "discovered" America, and the second Monday in October is celebrated as Columbus Day in the United States.
Extra credit: Columbus is also known as Cristobal or Christobal Colon (in Spanish) and Cristoforo Colombo (in Italian)... America is named for Amerigo Vespucci, who explored what is now South America a few years after Columbus's initial voyage.
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