Hailed as a “great navigator and explorer” by former U.S. president Richard Nixon, it turns out that not much is known about the life and travels of Christopher Columbus. That said, there are many interesting facts about Christopher Columbus that plenty of people are keen to find out.
Although the demand for hardcore historical information is high, many of our Christopher Columbus facts are taken from secondary sources confirmed by other sources and historians. Because he lived so long ago, primary evidence has, in many cases, been lost.
But fear not. Despite this, we can still rely on many of the facts taken from secondary sources that other historians have confirmed.
So, let’s set sail on a voyage of discovery and uncover some facts about Columbus.
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Interesting Facts About Columbus
Christopher Columbus, one of the most famous explorers of all time, set sail from Spain and landed in present-day Central America in 1492. More than 500 years later, many Americans celebrate Christopher Columbus Day in the United States.
Here are 10 facts about Christopher Columbus you might not know
1. Christopher Columbus’ Real Name Was Cristoforo Colombo
Christopher Columbus is widely celebrated in the United States and other parts of the Western World, with many classes teaching his name and story to school-aged children. However, one of the little-known Christopher Columbus facts is that he was Italian. The real name of Christopher Columbus was Cristoforo Colombo. So, who was this Cristoforo Colombo guy?
Christopher Columbus’ father was named Domenico Colombo and was a middle-class tradesman. Columbus was born sometime in October 1451 in what is now part of Italy. As it stands, the exact date and location of Columbus’ birth are disputed.
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One of the most significant barriers to establishing factual information about the explorer, be it interesting or random facts about Christopher Columbus, is that he lived 500 years ago. Columbus was not from any powerful lineage. He wasn’t directly related to kings or queens, and precise records of births and deaths weren’t recorded for everyday people at the time.
We use Christopher Columbus because it sounds more English than his birth name. In Spanish-speaking countries, Christopher Columbus is known as Cristóbal Colón. The name we use in English comes from the Latin “Christophorus Columbus.”
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2. Christopher Columbus Traveled to England When He Was 25
Christopher Columbus sailed on many voyages from when he was 20 to his fateful journey in 1492 when he crossed the Atlantic. Columbus started his career as a business agent, traveling and trading goods on behalf of wealthy families in Italy at the time.
When Columbus was 25, he traveled to England and Ireland from Italy. One of the essential facts to remember is that voyages by sea were very different 500 years ago. What we might consider a small journey now was quite an undertaking in those days.
Sea voyages in the late 1400s and early 1400s lacked many of the modern-day conveniences we have now. It took a steadfast individual to deal with poor nutrition, illness, rough weather, and many days away from land. As such, this is one of the facts about Christopher Columbus that paint him in an impressive light.
Based on his many sea voyages, it is clear that he was steadfast and could stand up to the rough life at sea.
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3. Christopher Columbus Moved from Italy to Portugal in 1477
Portugal lies on the Atlantic coast of the Iberian Peninsula and offers an ideal place to set sail for the British Isles, the African Coast, and the Mediterranean. For a maritime trader like Columbus, Portugal was an excellent place to live.
In 1477, Columbus sailed to Lisbon, where he met one of his brothers, Bartholomew, or Bartolomeo, and continued to work as a trader for wealthy merchant families. Columbus soon settled in Lisbon, Portugal. He married Filipa Moniz Perestrelo, and sometime in 1479 or 1480, his son Diego Columbus was born.
4. Columbus Taught Himself 3 Languages
Columbus was the son of a middle-class tradesman, and he began his career as a humble apprentice. However, he continued learning and continued advancing his life position.
Columbus taught himself three new languages: Latin, Portuguese, and Castilian. Like Benjamin Franklin and Abraham Lincoln, Columbus read many books. He read books by Marco Polo, the adventurer; Ptolemy, the astronomer; and Pliny, the philosopher.
As Columbus read, he would often take notes in the margins of the books. We would laugh at some of his observations today because science and knowledge have advanced so much in the last 500 years.
However, one of the clear Christopher Columbus facts is that Columbus wanted to learn as much as possible about the world around him. Perhaps it was this desire to learn more about the world that gave Columbus the inspiration to cross the Atlantic.
5. Christopher Columbus Wrote a Book on the Apocalypse in 1501
Columbus studied the Bible intensely, along with the other books he read. Much like Martin Luther King, Jr., Columbus often quoted scripture from the Bible in his writings.
This brings us to five facts about Christopher Columbus. Possibly one of the least known facts about him is that he published a book of religious writings at the end of his lifetime. In 1501 and 1502, Columbus wrote The Book of Prophecies.
It’s a collection of apocalyptic religious essays, which was standard during the late Middle Ages or medieval period. It is believed that he compiled the text to justify his belief that his discovery of the Indies played an integral role in the salvation of humanity.
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6. Christopher Columbus Considered Spices to Be As Valuable As Gold in the 1500s
File this one under economic Christopher Columbus facts: spices from Asia were a precious commodity in the late 1400s and early 1500s. The trading and transport of spices were conducted along the Silk Road from India and China to Europe.
Spices were not as common in Columbus’ time as they are today. To have spices for your meal was a sign of nobility or luxury. People who owned spices kept them locked up in chests with keys, treating them with equal value as gold.
The Turkish Empire conquered Constantinople and established rule. The Turks installed their government and changed the name of this important city on the Silk Road to Istanbul.
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After the Turkish Empire took control of Constantinople in 1453, there was a traffic jam on the Silk Road. The passage of goods was more challenging than it had been, and the high value of spices gave traders an economic incentive to look for a detour.
Many wondered whether there was a way to go around the Silk Road. People began looking for an ocean route to the source of the spices in Asia. Wealthy merchants and royal families funded the expeditions of sailors like Columbus. Whoever discovered the ocean route first would have exclusive access to the spices at lower prices.
Funding sailors like Columbus was an investment for wealthy merchants and royal families. The source of the spices was in and around what is now modern-day India. At the time, the Europeans referred to this area as the Indies.
7. Christopher Columbus Started Pitching His Idea in 1485
As early as 1485, Columbus had approached John II, the King of Portugal, for funding to search for an ocean route to the Indies. Columbus had a radical idea: to travel west to reach the Indies in the east. At the time, it was not commonly known or widely accepted that the Earth was round.
This is one of the best-known yet mistaken Christopher Columbus facts: while Columbus believed the Earth was round, he did not discover that the Earth was round. In addition to his beliefs, people thought his idea was ridiculous.
Contrary to popular belief, Columbus wasn’t the first to suggest that the Earth was round. Although it wasn’t widely acknowledged or agreed with then, people knew the theory. Columbus suggested that the Earth was round and small enough that he could find a faster way to Asia by sailing west instead of east.
Whether people believed the Earth was round or not, it isn’t surprising that people thought his idea was a long shot at the time. What made his plan so daring was the distance Columbus would have to travel. The people who doubted Columbus were right, and he underestimated the circumference of the Earth.
Christopher Columbus wasn’t the only sailor looking for an ocean route to Asia. By 1488, Bartolomeu Dias had reached the southern tip of Africa to bypass the Silk Road to Asia.
Dias had succeeded in getting funding from the King of Portugal to search for an ocean route to Asia. Dias planned to travel south and east to sail around Africa.
Until the Suez Canal was built, Dias’ route would be the fastest ocean route to Asia from Europe. However, what Columbus discovered would be far more valuable than the spices of the Indies.
8. King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain Were Venture Capitalists
By 1492, Columbus had tried to gain support from merchants in Italy and the King of Portugal to travel west to reach the Indies. It’s one of the much less known Christopher Columbus facts that Columbus also sent his brother Bartholomew to seek help from the King of England. Wherever he tried, no one was interested.
Finally, Columbus received a reception from the King and Queen of Spain. King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella had recently married and controlled much territory in Spain. It’s another of the little-known Christopher Columbus facts that Columbus presented his idea to the monarchs as early as 1486.
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A committee of advisors who worked for Isabella reviewed Columbus’ idea. It said that he had underestimated the circumference of the Earth and how long it would take to reach Asia by traveling west. Ferdinand and Isabella took the advice of their committee and did not give him funding for a voyage.
However, Columbus must have made an impression as King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella gave Columbus an annual salary and lodging.
It wasn’t until 1492 that King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella agreed to fund Columbus’ voyage. He worked tirelessly to gain support for his idea. Other people did not believe him, and he may have been wrong, but he continued to work hard for what he believed in.
It took a diplomat’s skill and a salesman’s showmanship to convince the King and Queen of Spain to fund his voyage.
9. Christopher Columbus Was Not the First to See Land in 1492
“In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue” is one of the most repeated Christopher Columbus facts. Columbus departed from Spain on August 3, 1492. Many people were uncertain that he would return.
Columbus’ voyage consisted of three ships: the Niña, the nickname of Santa Clara, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria. It was a lookout on the Pinta, who first saw land on October 12, 1492, and alerted the captain of the Pinta, who signaled Columbus on his ship.
He later claimed he was the first to spot land a few hours earlier. Columbus not telling the truth about who saw land first is one of the first disheartening Christopher Columbus facts to emerge.
Christopher Columbus landed in the area that is now known as the Caribbean. Columbus named the island he landed on San Salvador. While the exact island he landed on is unknown, he inevitably landed in what we now know as the Bahamas.
Columbus discovered more than land – he met people he had never seen before. These were the Native Americans or the indigenous people who lived in the Caribbean. Another one of the disheartening Christopher Columbus facts is that he immediately thought of colonizing the lands and the inhabitants.
Columbus took many of the native people he encountered as prisoners. The native tribes he met were mostly peaceful, except for one group that resisted.
Columbus was a sea-faring trader whose goal was to ensure the economic success of the voyage. He found gold among the native people and tried to learn where they had gotten it. This was the beginning of the poor treatment of the native people by Columbus and later explorers who would follow him.
10. Columbus Made 4 Trips Across the Atlantic to the Americas
For those wondering, “Where did Christopher Columbus land exactly?”: It turns out the explorer insisted that he had landed in the Indies, naming the inhabitants Indians. To this day, the Caribbean is also known as the West Indies. While many people know that Columbus landed in the Americas in 1492, it’s one of the lesser-known Christopher Columbus facts that he made three more trips to the New World.
The New World was the name given to Columbus’s discovered area. We now know this area as the Americas: North America, Central America, and South America. As luck would have it, Columbus landed in the middle, near Central America.
Although Columbus insisted it was the Indies, there were strange new plants and animals, and the customs of the native people were unknown. This led people to call the land he discovered the New World. After Columbus discovered the Americas, an era of exploration and colonization began that would forever change life on Earth.
Columbus made three trips, with his final trip in 1503. When agreeing to fund the voyage, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella promised that Columbus would govern any new lands he discovered.
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Recent studies have revealed some more shocking Christopher Columbus facts. For example, in 1500, Columbus was arrested and taken back in chains from the New World for his tyranny as governor.
Reports had circulated and were confirmed by numerous witnesses that Columbus and his brothers, including Bartholomew, were brutal in their rule of the land and people they discovered in the New World. Columbus and his brothers would routinely torture and kill native people.
Columbus’s brutal treatment of people when he was governor is one of the saddest Christopher Columbus facts because it changed the nature of his legacy. We no longer see Christopher Columbus as an inspiring figure.
Perhaps the saddest fact is that this type of brutality would characterize the way European settlers treated native people in the Americas in the years to come.