Explorer. He is credited with discovering America for Europeans in 1492, although at the time, he believed he had discovered a new route to China. He was given the titles Admiral of the Ocean Sea and Viceroy of the Indies. Born Christopher Columbus (Cristobal Colon as he called himself in Spain), the eldest of five children in Genoa, Italy, to Domenico Colombo, a wool weaver and local guildsman, and Susanna Fontanarossa, the daughter of a wool weaver. Although trained to follow in his father's wool weaving trade, he longed to go to sea, as Genoa was a major seaport, and the city teamed with stories of foreign adventure and travel. When he turned 20, he shipped aboard a Genoese galley, as part of a fleet to punish the Barbary pirates. He then joined merchant ships, and traveled to Portugal, England, Ireland, and Iceland, and in the process, self taught himself Portuguese, Spanish, and Latin (most maps of the time were in Latin). Columbus' brother, Bartholomew, managed a ship outfitting shop in Lisbon, Portugal, that included maps and nautical instruments. In 1477, while visiting Bartholomew, Columbus learned that the Portuguese were attempting to reach India and China by sailing around the tip of Africa. Columbus believed that the world was a sphere, and that by sailing due west along the latitude of the Canary Islands (recently discovered and colonized by the Portuguese), he could reach India and China after a short voyage of only 3,000 miles when compared to a longer route around Africa (Columbus underestimated the size of the earth - the actual distance between Lisbon and Japan is closer to 11,000 miles). In 1479, Columbus married a Portuguese woman, Felipa de Perestrello, and she died shortly after giving birth to their only child, a son Diego. In 1482, he asked King John II of Portugal to fund the voyage of discovery, but was refused. In 1485, after marrying a Spanish woman (they would have several children), he offered his services to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, and in 1492, they agreed to outfit his fleet. Leaving Palos, Spain, on August 3, 1492, the three ships, Niña, Pinta, and Santa Maria, first sailed to the Canary Islands where they loaded more supplies and made repairs. Leaving the Canary Islands on September 9, the small fleet arrived at the island of San Salvador in the West Indies on October 12, 1492. Believing he had landed in the Indies near Japan or China, he called the natives "Indians," and the newly discovered land, the "West Indies;" incorrect names that would stick for the next 500 years. Bringing several natives with him, Columbus returned to Spain on March 15, 1493, claiming to have discovered a quick route to China. Columbus would make three more voyages to the new world, establishing colonies while searching for the lands of China, Japan and India. During his third voyage, he landed on South America (possibly becoming the first European to do so), and realized that there was a continent between Spain (Europe) and the Indies that he sought. His fourth and final voyage was an attempt to discover a route through the "Other World" as he called the new continent, to China and the Indies. The fourth voyage sailed along the coast of Central America and when shipworms nearly destroyed his ships, he was marooned on the coast of Jamaica for a year. He finally returned to Spain in November 1504. He would die less than two years later, at Valladolid, Spain, suffering so badly from arthritis that he could barely move. Following his death, he was initially buried at the cathedral in Valladolid, but his grandson supposedly took his remains for burial in Santo Domingo. The cathedral of Seville also claims to hold his remains. All three locations are in dispute. Columbus's voyages to America rank among history's most important events, primarily because it made lasting contact between Europe and the western hemisphere, and lead to an age of discovery and exploration that lasted over 400 years.
Bio by: Kit and Morgan Benson