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This Week In History

Columbus encounters the Americas. October 12,1492

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In 1492, a Spanish maritime expedition led by Cristopher Columbus parted in search of a new route to get to Asia. The expedition finally encountered the Americas, a continent that was previously unknown in Europe, and was the inception of the colonization of the Americas. This event is often cited as the beginning of the Modern Era.

Portugal had been up until the late 15th century the main European power interested in discovering new overseas routes, while Castile (Spain´s predecessor) channeled its resources in the re-conquer of its mainland to the Moors. That is why it was not until the late 15th century that the Kingdoms of Castile and Leon united started to think of exploring new commerce ways, as they had stopped receiving tributes from Africa.

Columbus had failed to convince the king John II of Portugal to fund his exploration of a western route, but the new king and queen of the re-conquered Spain decided to finance Columbus’s expedition in hopes of bypassing Portugal’s lock on Africa and the Indian Ocean, reaching Asia by traveling west.
The monarchs Isabella and Ferdinand left it to the Royal Treasurer to shift funds. Columbus was to be named Admiral of the Seas and would receive a portion of all profits. As well, according to the contract for the expedition, commissioned by Queen Isabella, if Columbus claimed any new island for the crown he would be appointed Viceroy and Governor of the newly colonised lands.

Washington Irving wrote a biography of Columbus in the 19th century, and popularized the idea that Europeans thought the Earth was flat, justifying the fact that Columbus received little support at the beginning and little trust in general for his expedition. In fact, the primitive maritime navigation of the time relied on the stars and the curvature of the Earth. This knowledge was widespread, and its diameter had already been calculated using an astrolabe.

After 29 days out of sight of land, on October 7 1492, the crew spotted a flock of birds, and they decided to change course in order to follow them.
Land was first sighted on October 12, by a sailor named Rodrigo de Triana, aboard la PintaColumbus named the island San Salvador, present day Bahamas or Turks and Caicos (this remains an unresolved topic), though the indigenous called it Guanahani.

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