12 October 1492. Christopher Columbus “discovered” America. His discovery was more accidental than planned. He had set sail from Spain to find a western sea route to India. When, after a long voyage west across the Atlantic, his crew saw land, Columbus believed he had reached Asia. Actually, the land they had reached was one of the Bahama islands. Without meaning to or realizing it, Columbus had discovered a “New World”
In fifteen- century Europe, India was thought of as land of fabulous riches Since the land route to India was controlled by the Arabs, explorers tried to find a sea route to India.
Fifteenth- century geographers understood the Earth was round.But they thought it was smaller than we now know it is . They also believed Asia reached farther east than it really does. These mistakes made them believe that Japan was where the West Indies are. At that time no Europeans had ever visited japan, through they knew that it existed.
Europeans had no idea the Americas existed . They believed a short voyage westwards across the Atlantic would bring them to the east. But few wanted to risk this voyage. Navigation was difficult. Sailors preferred voyages that kept them close to land. Columbus was the first man brave enough to sail into the known.
Columbus was born in Genoa in 1451. He went to sea very young, and became interested in finding a sea route to India. In 1492, King Ferdinand and queen Isabella of Spain agreed to Finance him. They gave him the right to rule the lands he discovered , and a one- tenth share in the profits from their trade. He was given three small ships, the Santa Maria, the Nina and the Pinta. He had with him 120 men.
A New World
In august 1492, the small fleet left Spain. In September it sailed out of sight of land. Thirty-three days passed. On 12 October,two hours after midnight, a sailor named Rodrigo de Trina saw land from the Pinta. At dawn, Columbus went ashore. He renamed the land San Salvador in the name of Spain. This land was the beautiful Bahama island of Guanahani.
Columbus was sure he had reached Asia, and left Guanahani to find Japan .Instead he found Cuba and Hispaniola. He returned to Spain in January 1493. He was still convinced that the islands he had discovered were close to Japan and India lay just beyond. So he called the islands the West Indies, a name they still bear.
Columbus returned three times to these islands, looking for mainland Asia. Instaed he discoveerd mainland South America. Columbus died in May 1506,still believing he had reached the east . He never realized the importance of his discoveries.
Before Columbus, tobacco was unknown in Europe. While exploring Cuba, one of Columbus’s men, Rodrigo Jerez, noticed the natives smoking tobacco. He started smoking it himself, and took some back to Spain. When his neighbours saw him blowing puffs of smoke from his nose, they were so frightened they had him put into prison for seven years! But smoking soon became a craze in Spain.