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Age of Explorationtable of contents
Christopher Columbus

Columbus Leaving Palos, Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida (Spanish 1863-1923), Oil on canvas, 1910, Gift of Mr. Archer Huntington, The Mariners’ Museum Collection

Perhaps the most famous explorer was Christopher Columbus. Born in Genoa, Italy, in 1451 to a weaver, young Columbus first went to sea at the age of fourteen. As a young man, he settled in Portugal and married a woman of noble background. After his wife's death in 1485, Columbus and his young son Diego moved to Spain.

Like all learned men of his time, Columbus knew the world was round. He theorized that since the earth was a sphere, a ship could eventually reach the Far East from the opposite direction. He thought to establish trade routes to Asia in this manner.

The fifteenth-century Europeans were not aware of the South and North American continents during this timeframe. Mapmakers did not show an accurate picture and no one knew there was a Pacific Ocean.


For a decade, Columbus approached the Portuguese king and the Spanish monarchs to obtain a grant to explore possible trade routes to the west. After initially turning him down, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella reconsidered once the Moors had been successfully expelled from Spain in 1492. Columbus promised to bring back gold, spices, and silks from the Far East, to spread Christianity, and to lead an expedition to China. In return, Columbus asked for and got the hereditary title "admiral of the ocean seas" and became governor of all discovered lands. The First Voyage of Columbus to India in the year of 1492, Engraving from Collections of Voyages to the East and West Indies, 1594 by Theodore de Bry, The Mariners’ Museum Library Collection
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