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Christopher Columbus was quite the character. His name is synonymous with the great discovery of America, and most people (in the Western world at least) have heard of him. And he really did live a colourful and exciting life! So here are 10 interesting facts about Christopher Columbus…
He made four different trips to the New World
Over the course of his life – or at least between 1492 and 1504 – Columbus made four different trips across the Atlantic Ocean. There wasn’t just one singular voyage. The trips took him to various places, allowed him to sight new lands and saw him almost perish quite a few times. He would always have a different sized crew and take a slightly different route.
Columbus was actually trying to get to Asia
Christopher Columbus didn’t have his sights set on America – because, of course, he didn’t know it existed and neither did anyone else in Europe. He was trying to get to Asia. Europeans in Columbus’s day had always been able to travel safely to south and east Asia (known then as the Indies) as well as China. Their route was called the Silk Road. It linked the eastern and western parts of the world, becoming a central hub for all cultural, political, religious and economic interactions between the different regions.
However, this changed in 1453. The fall of Constantinople meant that this long-travelled land route between Europe and Asia was no longer safe. It became incredibly difficult and dangerous, so Christopher Columbus was determined to find a way there by sea.
His remains have travelled extensively, too
There are plenty of interesting facts about Christopher Columbus but one of the best is that his bones have travelled around almost as much as he did! He was originally buried in Valladolid, Spain, in 1506. But just three years later he was moved. His remains were, at this point, taken to his family mausoleum which was in Seville.
Much later, in 1542, his son Diego died and in accordance with his will, Columbus’s remains had to be moved again. They were moved to Santo Domingo in Hispaniola, which is actually now in the Dominican Republic. His bones remained here for years, but then Hispaniola was ceded to France by Spain. So Columbus’s remains were moved – this time to Havana, Cuba. But this wasn’t the end of their journey. Eventually, in 1898, they made their way back across the Atlantic Ocean and were returned to Seville!
His name wasn’t actually Christopher Columbus
This perhaps goes without saying, but it’s easy to forget. Christopher Columbus is actually an Anglicisation of his original name – Cristoforo Colombo. We aren’t the only ones to change his name in this way, though. He is Cristóbal Colón in Spain, and in Sweden he’s known as Kristoffer Kolumbus. This is one of the more interesting facts about Christopher Columbus, as it opens doors to consider how other names and words have been tweaked and changed over the years: language is a funny old thing.
And he wasn’t actually Italian, either
He sort of was. But Christopher Columbus was born in a place called Genoa, Italy’s sixth-largest city and a bustling port. At the time of Columbus’s birth and until 1797, Genoa was autonomous – not part of Italy at all. It was the capital of the Republic of Genoa, established way back in 1005. So while today Columbus would indeed be Italian, at the name he was simply Genoese.
Columbus wasn’t the first to sight new land…
Among our interesting facts about Christopher Columbus, this is a contested one. But apparently, during the famous voyage of 1492, Columbus promised a reward (a nice pile of gold) to the first person to spot land as they sailed. And this person was Rodrigo de Triana, a sailor who caught the first glimpse of a small island in the Bahamas on October 12th. But Columbus didn’t pay up, boasting to everyone that he had in fact spotted a hazy bit of light the previous night but didn’t mention it at the time as he wasn’t sure. Columbus went on to name the island San Salvador, and Rodrigo de Triana has been honoured in the form of a statue in a park in Seville.
He was incredibly religious
Christopher Columbus believed that he had been singled out by God to embark on this journey – or rather, these journeys. This is why many of islands, like the aforementioned San Salvador, has religious names – this example was because Columbus hoped the natives would be able to find salvation in Christ thanks to his help.
In his later life, he would wear a plain Franciscan habit at all times. He was an incredibly wealthy admiral at this point, but looked more like a monk.
Columbus nearly didn’t go on any voyages at all
Journeys of this magnitude did not come cheap, and Columbus couldn’t afford it himself. He spent years begging various courts and monarchies to back him, fund his travels and sponsors his voyages. He was determined to find a sea route to Asia, and needed the cash to do so – but England, Portugal and France all said no. Spain eventually said yes, despite many people telling the King and Queen (Ferdinand and Isabella) that he had underestimated the length of the journey and so on – this turned out to be true, but as he happened to stumble upon the Americas it didn’t really matter in the end…
He was saved by the moon in Jamaica
In 1504, Columbus was stranded in Jamaica. Many of his crew had abandoned him, and the islanders were refusing to give him food or proper shelter. But Columbus, from his studies, knew that a lunar eclipse was on the way – so he told the islanders that his god was angry with their treatment of Columbus himself. He said that the moon would “rise inflamed with wrath” to prove this, and lo and behold the moon turned red a short while later. The islanders were quick to bestow food upon Columbus, and ask him to beg his god for their mercy.
Columbus was pretty tall
The last of our interesting facts about Christopher Columbus highlights his looks. According to descriptions, Columbus was well above 5’7” – the average for men during his time period. He was also pale, so he burnt easily, and had a hooked nose with blue eyes and sandy red/blonde hair. Good to know!
So there’s your 10 interesting facts about Christopher Columbus. He was quite the character…