Christopher Columbus has long been hailed as the ‘discoverer’ of the New World. His explorations opened the way for the European exploration and colonisation of the continent. Born in 1451 in Genoa, Italy, Columbus was a master navigator and admiral. In his 30s, he started trying to get support for a transatlantic voyage intended to forge a westward sea passage to the Orient, where the settlers would exploit the production of spices and other natural resources.
Columbus succeeded in securing royal backing from King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain and in August 1492, he departed with three ships, including the Santa Maria. He named the first island they found San Salvador in what is now the Bahamas, before going on to Cuba and Hispaniola. However, Columbus was adamant that he was in Asia. On their return to Spain, the crew were received as heroes and Columbus paraded indigenous people he had captured at court along with gold, the previously unknown tobacco plant, pineapples and turkeys.
In September 1493, the explorer set sail again with a much larger fleet of 17 ships and explored the Caribbean. Hundreds of indigenous people were enslaved and many died on the journey back to Spain. On a third voyage in 1498, Columbus took six ships to Trinidad and Venezuela, and started the exploration of mainland South America, still convinced that the lands he visited were parts of Asia. Accused of tyranny and incompetence, Columbus and his brothers were arrested and jailed for alleged atrocities. Eventually released, Columbus made his fourth and last exploration in 1502. They sailed to Central America, landing in Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama.
Columbus returned to Spain for the last time in 1504 and died two years later. Removed from his standing as Viceroy and Governor of the Indies and denied profits made in the new lands, he died a disappointed man. Buildings, rivers and monuments have been named in honour of Columbus but the enslavement of native people, atrocities, exploitation of natural resources and spread of new diseases his explorations brought will always make his legacy a troubled one.