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Christopher Columbus

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Columbus was born Cristуbal Colуn (Sp) or Cristoforo Colombo (It), in the Italian port city of Genoa, the son of Domenico Colombo, a weaver, and Suzanna Fontanarossa. There is no real evidence that he was Italian, and it is thought that his family might have been Spanish Jews; his writings are in Spanish, including his private notes. Little is recorded of his early life, but it seems that he went to sea at the age of 14, as a pirate, later visiting the Greek Island of Chios. In 1476, while fighting against Genoa with the Portuguese off Cape St Vincent, the ship he was aboard caught fire, and he swam to the shore of Portugal with the help of a wooden oar. Lisbon was then a busy commercial centre, at the westernmost edge of the known world, and congregated there were seafarers, astronomers, geographers, and scientists, all keenly debating the possibility of the existence and discovery of a "new world', or of reaching the East by sailing west.

Soon after coming ashore, he sailed to Iceland and back. However, the imaginative young Columbus was obsessed with the idea that his landing near Lisbon had been by divine intervention. Encouraged by a Florentine astronomer, Paolo Toscanelli, he dreamed of a much greater journey, beyond the W horizons to reach India; a feat he hoped would bring him glory as well as financial reward. His ambition was much aided by the wife he took in 1478. She was Felipa Perestrello e Moniz, and her father was a sea captain from one of Portugal's most influential families. Columbus settled for a while on Porto Santo in the Madeira Is with his new family, and gained considerable sailing experience in the South Atlantic, where his imagination was further roused by sightings of flotsam from other lands.

He began to seek a patron for his intended expedition. His plans were vague, and his proposal to John II of Portugal in 1484 was rejected, so he turned to Spain. After years of alternately being encouraged and repulsed, his voyage was patronized by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Castile in April 1492. On Friday 3 August, he set sail from the Spanish port of Palos in command of the Santa Marнa - a decked ship 36`m long, with 50 men, and attended by two little caravels, the Pinta and the Niсa , captained by Martin Alonso Pinzуn and his brothers. The whole squadron comprised only 120 adventurers.

He first reached the Canary Is; and though he found it hard to keep up the courage of his crews, San Salvador in the Bahamas was sighted on Friday 12 October 1492. The expedition went ashore and planted the royal banner, taking possession of the land in the name of Spain. Columbus then visited Cuba and Hispaniola (Haiti), leaving 38 men there among the natives with supplies and munitions for a year. By this time his flagship had been wrecked, and he set sail on 4 January 1493 with his two caravels on the return journey to Spain. The voyage was tormented by animosity between Columbus and Pinzуn, who disapproved

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