Saturday, August 3, 2013
August 3 - Christopher Columbus set sail
521 years ago: On the evening of August 3, 1492, Italian navigator Christopher Columbus set sail from Palos de la Frontera in southwest Spain, north of Gibraltar, with three ships, seeking a western ocean route to China and India, which offered rare commodities and opiates. After the fall of Constantinople in 1453 to Ottoman Turks, the land route had become more difficult and risky. Columbus had read widely in astronomy, geography and history, including works of Ptolemy of Alexandria, who had estimated the size and radius of a spherical Earth in the 1st century. Columbus’ plan to sail to the Indies via the “Ocean sea” (the Atlantic) was not radical, since educated Westerners had understood the world to be round since Aristotle’s time (4th century BCE). Columbus had won sponsorship for his expedition from the Crown of Castile, later called Spain, after failing twice in Portugal. The ships he commanded sailed first to the Canary Islands; five weeks later they reached an island in what is now the Bahamas. The natives’ gold ear ornaments interested him greatly.