Italian navigator and explorer who made four
voyages to the New
World: in 1492 to San Salvador Island, Cuba, and Haiti; from 1493 to
1496 to Guadaloupe, Montserrat, Antigua, Puerto Rico, and Jamaica; in
1498 to Trinidad and the mainland of South America; from 1502 to 1504
to Honduras and Nicaragua.
Believing that Asia could be reached
by sailing westwards, he eventually won the support of King Ferdinand
and Queen Isabella of Spain and set off on his first voyage from Palos
on 3 August 1492 with three small ships, the Niña, the Pinta,
and his flagship the Santa Maria.
Land was sighted on 12 October, probably Watling Island (now San
Salvador Island), and within a few weeks he reached Cuba and Haiti,
returning to Spain in March 1493.
Born in Genoa, Columbus went to sea at an
early age, and settled in
Portugal in 1478. After his third voyage in 1498, he became involved in
quarrels among the colonists sent to Haiti, and in 1500 the governor
sent him back to Spain in chains. Released and compensated by the king,
he made his last voyage 1502–04, during which he hoped to find a strait
leading to India. He died in poverty in Valladolid and is buried in
Seville Cathedral. In 1968 the site of the wreck of the Santa Maria,
sunk off Hispaniola on 25 December 1492, was located.
Columbus Day (second Monday in October),
a public holiday, is named after him.