Christopher Columbus was an Italian explorer who is famous for opening the Americas (the New World). Despite the given fame and glory, Columbus wasn’t the first person to discover the Americas but he was the first person to pave a way to the European colonization in the Americas.
Some people admire him for his famous voyage, while some others blame him for destroying the lives of Indigenous People who dwelled in the New World peacefully for thousands of years.
Generally, it is hard to decide whether Columbus was a good or bad person or his accomplishments are worthy to be praised. And, I am not here to judge him. However, I am going to list some informative and interesting facts about him, so you can decide what type of person Columbus was.
Facts about Christopher Columbus’s life
1. Christopher Columbus was born in 1451 in Genoa, which is now part of Italy. However, he achieved most of his fame after he moved to Spain.
From a young age, he liked to travel. Even before organizing a voyage to the New World, he explored much of Europe with merchant ships. For instance, some historical sources suggest that he visited faraway lands such as Iceland and Africa as a merchant.
Columbus moved to Portugal in his 20s. Later on, he settled in Spain where he dedicated most of his time and energy to find a new route to the Far East (Japan, China, and India) where the world trade was supposedly booming at the time.
2. The early life of Christopher Columbus is not fully understood. Some even defy his Italian origin.
Some historians suggest that he was a Portuguese nobleman who accepted the name Columbus to cover up his true identity. However, Columbus’s commonly accepted biography states that he was born to a mid-class family in Genoa.
Columbus’s father was a wool merchant named Dominico Colombo, and his mother’s name was Sussana Fontanarossa. Columbus had four siblings: Bartolomeo, Giovanni Pellegrino, and Giacomo and a sister, Bianchinetta.
Interestingly, an article in Forbes journal discusses that historians are now trying to do DNA testing on skeletons of Columbus’s descendants to sort out the speculations on Columbus’s true origin.
3. Christopher Columbus is also known with the names Cristoforo Colombo and Cristóbal Colón.
His names vary depending on the languages they are being used in. For instance, in Latin, his name is Christopher Columbus, while it was pronounced as Cristoforo Colombo in Italian, and Cristóbal Colón in Spanish.
4. Columbus was fond of trading voyages. Starting from a young age, he began to work as a trade agent for the predominant merchants of Genoa.
This job was a great opportunity for him to garner sailing and navigation skills and experience. From those voyages, he learned how to navigate in the oceans using winds and the positions of celestial bodies.
5. Christopher Columbus married Filipa Moniz Presetrelo who was a Portuguese noblewoman.
Around 1480, they had a son whom they named Diego. Unfortunately, Filipa could not see his son grow to older ages. She passed away when Diego was only 5 years old.
Some historians even speculate that Filipa did not die, but Columbus left her taking his son to Spain.
Anyways, after this life circumstance, Columbus settled in Spain with Diego. And, from there, his quest for the great adventures began.
6. After the death of Filipa Moniz Presetrelo, Columbus started living with his 20 years old mistress in Castile, Spain.
Her name was Beatriz Enríquez de Arana. She gave birth to Columbus second son Ferdinand Columbus.
Beatriz was the closest woman to Columbus until the last days of his life although they did not get married. However, Columbus accepted Ferdinand as his natural son and asked his older son Diego to look after his younger brother and Beatriz.
7. Columbus almost lost his life during one of the voyages.
In 1476, the merchant ship he was sailing with was attacked off the coast of Portugal by French privateers. The ship was burnt down and totally destroyed.
Columbus could survive the accident swimming to the Portugal coast using one of the wooden fragments of the destroyed ship.
8. Christopher Columbus was inspired by the stories of Marco Polo about the Far East.
Adventure stories of Marco Polo sparked a great desire in Columbus and motivated him to explore those lands himself. Being an energetic admirer of adventures, Columbus decided to reach the Far East. He planned to get there not by land but sailing westwards from Spain in the Atlantic Ocean.
Generally speaking, Columbus learned about the Eastern Civilizations and their lucrative trades from the writings of Marco Polo. Columbus used the wealth and opportunities described in Polo’s stories as leverage to gain support from Spanish royals.
9. Christopher was interested in Geography, History, and Astronomy.
Most historians agree that his love for these sciences inspired him to take voyages to uncharted waters. Although he studied various subjects, people in his time did not consider him a scholar. He learned things not spread knowledge to others but keep for himself and use it for his own advantage.
A subject of history that he had studied informed him about the booming trades of East Indies, geography helped him to sketch a new marine route to get to the East Indies, and Astronomical knowledge allowed him to use the celestial objects to navigate in the massive oceans.
10. Christopher Columbus was highly interested in the Bible and Biblical Prophecies.
Columbus’s original manuscripts include several quotes from the Bible. Apart from gaining access to the lucrative Eastern trade, he also intended to spread Christianity in those lands by organizing a voyage there.
Even in the letter that he wrote to King Ferdinand II and Isabella I, he stated that he was inspired by the Holy Spirit to accomplish this voyage.
Columbus assured Spanish royals that the voyage will be a good opportunity to spread Christianity and influence of the Western World to the East Indies and achieve materialistic gains.
Facts about Christopher Columbus’s Voyages to the Americas
11. The primary intention of Columbus’s voyage was not to open the Americas (the New World) but to get to the Far Eastern countries such as Japan, China, and India.
Those lands were known as East Indies at the time. Columbus dreamed of reaching there through sea routes and avoid land routes that were prone to religious disputes.
For example, knowing that the world is globe-shaped, he reasoned that if he were to sail westwards, he would eventually reach the East.
Instead, he unintentionally opened a land even greater than his intended purposes. The land which he mistakenly discovered would host the greatest nations of the planet in the centuries to come.
12. Columbus discovered the Americas with three ships.
It wasn’t easy for Columbus to get financial support from royals to organize his voyage. Eventually, he managed to get three ships from Spain. Names of those ships were Pinta, Nina, and Santa-Maria.
Columbus was on board of Santa Maria. However, he did not like Santa Maria that much because it was a large cargo ship which was hard-to maneuver and slow in speed. Columbus’s favorite ships were Nina and Pinta because of their fast speed.
Nina and Pinta were caravels. Apart from their advantages in speed and maneuverability, they are were too small and lacked spare places for crew to live comfortably during the voyage.
13. Some people at the time of Columbus was very much skeptical of Columbus’s intended voyage. They reasoned that it would be foolish to sail West in order to reach the East.
Despite the obstacles and skepticism, Columbus was able to convince Spain’s royal family. Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand II and Isabella I sponsored his voyage, although some locals believed that mission will be a failure.
Historians describe Columbus as a motivated and goal-oriented individual who was willing to take a risk to accomplish his goals. Probably, it was his strong personality and focused mindset that might have earned him the title “Admiral of the Ocean Sea”.
14. Columbus’s voyage was possible with the support of Martin Alonso Pinzon who was a local seaman and merchant.
Although Martin Pinzon is currently known as co-discoverer of the Americas, some Spanish people believe that glorious discovery of New World belongs to the Pinzon without whom Columbus could not have reached the fame or sailed to his famed transatlantic voyage.
During the first voyage, Martin Pinzon was a leader of the Pinta while his brother Vicente Yáñez Pinzónwas in command of the Nina.
According to the locals, both of these captains were far superior to Columbus since they were well-known and highly esteemed sailors and navigators of that time.
15. Columbus had a hard time recruiting a crew to the voyage because nobody wanted to sail to the unknown waters under the leadership of the foreigner.
Sailors started volunteering to join the voyage only when they knew that Pinzon brothers are also going to the voyage.
Concisely, thanks to the callings of Pinzons, Columbus could build a team of brave sailors who are willing to risk their lives for the unknown mission.
16. Christopher Columbus’s first transatlantic voyage to the Indies began on August 3, 1492, from the port of Palos.
Port of Palos locates in Palos de la Frontera, a town in Southwestern Spain. The local population of Palos still remembers Columbus’s and Pinzons’ first voyage with great admiration and historical significance.
The three ships la Santa Clara (Niña), La Pinta, and la Santa Gallega (Santa Maria) had their unique differences. Pinta and Nina were small ships in today’s standards, which were measured 50 to 70 feet (15 to 22 meters) from bow to stern.
La Pinta and Niña each included about 25 sailors on board, while Columbus’s flagship Santa Maria included about 40 sailors.
17. Columbus stopped in one of the Canary Islands to replenish his ships with essentials before crossing the Atlantic.
The Canary Islands were the outermost lands of Spain. The Islands were over 930 miles (1500 km) away from mainland Spain. Columbus ended up staying in La Gomera Island (one of the Canary Islands) for over a month although he initially planned to stay there for 5 days.
The reason for the extended stay was the Columbus love affair with the governor of La Gomera Island of the Canaries, who was a beautiful widow named Beatriz de Bobadilla.
People speculate that Columbus and Beatriz de Bobadilla had a warm relationship. Later on, Columbus came to the island again to see her. By that time, she had already gotten married to another conquistador.
18. Christopher Columbus was about to turn back when suddenly one of the sailors spotted a land.
After several exhaustive days of the voyage, Columbus’s team grew more skeptical of the idea of finding a passage to the Indies through the Atlantic Ocean.
Experiencing several unfruitful and depressive days, Columbus has considered giving up his quest. Luckily, at 2 a.m. on October 12, a sailor spotted a land and the spirit of sailors revived.
19. Columbus believed that they reached to West Indies when they spotted an island of the Americas
The land they spotted wasn’t West Indies that Columbus intended to reach. It was one of the Caribbean islands that locals referred to it as Guanahani. Columbus named the island San Salvador, which means “Holy Savior” in Spanish.
Interestingly, historians are still debating over the island that Columbus first spotted. Some say it was present-day San Salvador island of Bahamas, while others suggest it might have been Grand Turk Island, Samana Cay or Plana Cays.
20. After discovering San Salvador, Columbus was determined to sail further to reach the mainland of Indies.
The second destination they reached was Cuba. Columbus mistakenly thought that they reached China and send two sailors from his crew to meet the Chinese Emperor. The names of these two sailors were Rodrigo de Jerez and Luis de Torres whom Columbus brought as interpreters.
Instead of meeting the glorious emperor, they found themselves in the midst of the native Taino village, where they learned and picked up the habit of tobacco smoking.
21. Columbus took a year’s worth of food to the Journey but that food got spoiled during the lengthy journey.
According to a source, food supplies included salted and dried fish, pickled or salted meat (beef and pork), dried grains such as lentils, chickpeas, and beans. The most important and common food among them was hardtack biscuits.
Due to the dampness and heat inside the ships, those foods got infested with maggots. Some sailors usually waited for dark hours to eat their food so they wouldn’t see the condition of their meal while sailors with greater experience were not minded eating them as normal food.
22. To access the riches and lucrative business of the East, Columbus decided the transatlantic sea route because of several obstacles.
There were heated tensions between Christianity and Islam during the time of Columbus. The spread of Islam in parts of the world somehow blocked Spain’s access to the East through land routes and through the Red Sea.
For Spain’s Catholic Monarchs, Columbus’s idea of sailing westwards to reach the East Indies was a convenient and safe option.
23. Christopher Columbus did not know the existence of the American continent.
In other words, Columbus believed that if he sailed westwards from Spain, he will directly reach to the East. He presumed that the Atlantic Ocean to be an open sea and holds none other lands along the way.
The maps that existed during the time of Columbus did not include the Americas. For example, Martin Behaim’s globe called Erdapfel has already existed in the time of Columbus but it failed to illustrate the Americas in its map.
24. Christopher Columbus died believing that he reached the East through his voyage.
This means that he was not even aware of his discovery of America. Instead, he firmly believed that he reached the Eastern lands through Atlantic.
Although his initial goal was to come back to Spain with loads of gold and spices from the Indies, he returned with only corn, potatoes, parrots, syphilis, and a few indigenous people.
Columbus brought back human captive believing that he could start the slave trade in the New World. However, Queen Isabella did not find that offer compelling.
25. Columbus’s first impression of the indigenous people of the New World was sympathetic.
Columbus wrote to his diary that when they reached ashore, groups of indigenous people came to see them. According to his description, almost all of them were naked “as their mothers bore them”. Also, Columbus described them as being curios and gentle people living in a poor lifestyle.
Columbus went on to write that those people had handsome bodies and attractive faces. As for their character, he wrote that those people “would be better freed and converted to our Holy Faith by love than by force”.
26. Christopher Columbus called Indigenous Peoples of the New World Indies under the belief that he really reached Indies.
That is why we have two groups of the populations on this planet that share the name Indians: one in Asia, and the other one in America.
For the sake of clarity, modern people started calling the Indigenous population of America “American Indians”.
27. After the discovery of the Americas, Christopher Columbus managed to organize the second, third, and fourth voyages to the New World.
All these voyages became possible with the support of Spanish royals whom Columbus could convince to colonize the New World. Unlike the first voyage, he managed to sail with over 17 ships and 1300 salaried sailors on the second voyage.
The second voyage took place on September 25, 1493, and the ships departed from Cadiz, a port city of southwestern Spain. The third voyage took off from Spain also in 1498, and the fourth one was in 1502.
28. Christopher Columbus was not the first person to discover the Americas.
First of all, it is important to note that it is not a real discovery. Before the arrival of Christopher Columbus, millions of Indigenous people were already thriving in those lands.
As far as discovery by Europeans concerned, it was the Leif Erickson who supposedly came to the Canadian province of Newfoundland with his crew in the 10th century.
There is also one other theory that claims Muslim-Chinese explorers from the Ming dynasty had set foot on the New World about 71 years before Columbus’s voyage.
29. Columbus kept a logbook and write a detailed letter about the experiences he faced during the voyage.
Every instance of the voyage was recorded in the logbook. The detailed letter of the voyage was written for the Monarchs so they could get transparent information about the voyage.
Also, Columbus’s well-documented voyages helped the future sailors to follow the route that Columbus and his crew took.
30. Christopher Columbus caused damage to the Natives populations of the New World both directly and indirectly.
Some historians state although Native Indians were friendly and gentle people, Columbus could not reciprocate their warm welcome. Columbus’s main intention was to monetize the land and the people at the expense of the unsuspecting Indigenous peoples. He claimed their lands, enslaved their people,and tried to convert them into Christianity by force.
Columbus’s indirect harm to the natives was a disease that he and his crew brought from Europe unintentionally. Having no immunity to European diseases, Arawaks (native people) perished in mass numbers infecting each other.
Another negative thing we have to mention about the voyage is that Columbus’s ambitious desire for the wealth, power, and spread of Christianity led to the centuries-long struggle of Indigenous Peoples.
31. During the first voyage, Christopher Columbus lost Santa Maria.
Santa Maria was the largest of all three ships that departed from Spain during the first voyage. Although Columbus complained about its slow speed and difficult maneuverability, it was the most valuable asset of the voyage.
Before heading back to Spain, Columbus needed to find some gold and other valuable items to prove that his voyage wasn’t in vain. So, he set sailed to the land which supposedly held large reserves of gold. That place was modern-day Haiti. Columbus is named it La Española to establish Spanish authority there.
In the sea close to La Española, Santa Maria ran aground and sank. Columbus salvaged the ship to build a fort in La Española to minimize the costs of the accident.
32. Christopher Columbus died as a disappointed man on May 20, 1506.
Columbus returned from the fourth voyage in poor health. He had swollen eyes that did not allow him to read well. He also experienced body pains. Doctors now think that he either developed a severe form of arthritis or Reiter’s syndrome. At the time, he was only 53 years of age man with great sailing experience but vanishing fame.
The glory that he had gained during the first voyage did not last until his last days. When he grew sick, his only supporters were his sons Diego and Ferdinand. Especially, his oldest son Diego represented his sick father during the court cases.
Columbus attempted to claim the money, official recognition, and prerogatives through Spanish court in his last days. Because he believed that he was much worth than his current state. However, his attempts were unsuccessful and died as a disappointed man.
Columbus was buried in the Carthusian monastery of Santa Maria de las Cuevas in Seville. After the burial, his body was exhumed and moved to several locations until it was finally rested in Seville Cathedral.