Cristoforo Colombo

1451 - 1505

This woodcut from the late 16th century, by Tobias Stimmer, shows the likeness of Christopher Columbus. It is believed that all available portraits of Columbus, were done after his death, therefore, we really don't know what he looked like, except for the descriptions by Fernando Colón and others.
Cristoforo Colombo was born in Genoa, sometime between August 25th and October 31st of 1451. His father was Domenico Golombo and grandfather was Giovanni Colombo, both being wool weavers in Genoa. His mother, Suzanna was the daughter of another weaver, Giacomo Fontanarossa. The marriage of Domenico and Suzanna produced five offspring. Cristoforo was the first born, followed a couple of years later by Bartolomeo.  Another brother, Giovanni Pellegrino died at a young age. Next in line was a sister, Bianchinetta, who married a cheese maker. His youngest sibling was another brother, Giacomo, and he was 17 years younger that Cristoforo.

Antonio Gallo, the official chronicler of Genoa writes the Cristoforo and Bartolomeo, during their youth, sometimes worked with their father in his business and that they went to sea at an early age. He said that they received very little education, and spent most of their time at sea, as was the custom. Cristoforo learned the trade very well, and proved to be an excellent sailor and navigator, has was proved later.

Around 1470, the family moved from Genoa to Savona, a town west of Genoa. Cristoforo was living with his family, and we know that 1473, he went with his brother, Giovanni Pellegrino, to sell the family home.  Bartolomeo was now living in Lisbon, where he was working as a map maker. 

During one of Cristoforo's voyages to Portugal, he was convinced by his brother, Bartolomeo, to stay in Lisbon, which at the time was the leading seafaring country in Europe. It offered greater possibilities for Cristoforo, and his pursuit of exploration and trading. In July, 1478, he sailed from Lisbon to Madeira, to purchase sugar for Centurione. Around 1479, Cristoforo married Felipa Moniz de Perestrello, a Portuguese lady who was the daughter of Bartolomeu Perestrello, former governor of the island of Porto Santo. During all of this time, Cristoforo made his living as a seamen and cartographer. He also became a Portuguese citizen to facilitate his seafaring adventures and we find reference to him as Cristovão Colon, the Portuguese spelling of his name. During this time, he read much on the geography of the world, the theories that the world was round and not flat. 

Cristoforo read with great interest the book on Marco Polo's travels to the east, and was very impressed with the narratives. He made many notes in the margins of the book, and dreamed of travel to the Far East, the Orient and Cathay. He also read the works of Paolo de Pozzo Toscanelli and Antonio Gallo, of the possibility of a western passage to the East. He exchanged letters with Toscanelli, dealing with the feasibility of sailing west to arrive in Cathay and his map of the world, which depicted Cipango (Japan) due west of the Canaries and Mangi (India) and Cathay (China) due west of Europe.

Between 1475 and 1479, King Alfonso of Portugal was involved with the war with Castilla and was not interested in supporting any voyages of exploration. He died in 1481, and was succeeded by is son, João II. In 1483 or 1484, Cristovão Colom, a Genoese mariner that was a Portuguese citizen, sought an audience with the king of Portugal to interest him in the voyage to Cathay by sailing west.

King João II, showed little interest in Cristovão plans. He had already spent much money on the exploration of the Guinea coast, and that proved to be of doubtful return. John did send Cristovão to Dom Diogo Ortiz, the Bishop of Ceuta, and Master Rodrigo and Master Josepe. They comprised a royal commission of learned men, who specialized in things dealing with cosmography and voyages of discoveries. After hearing Cristovão, they concluded that there was not much merit in his logic, and it was composed mostly of fantasies.

 Cristovão petitioned the king for ships for his voyage, but was informed that none were available, since the exploration of Guinea took precedence. Sometime during the middle  of 1484, he left Portugal to Castilla, with his son Diego, hoping for better luck, convincing the monarchs of Castilla.

Cristóbal Colón arrived in Castilla during the spring or summer of 1484. He first went to the town of Huelva, where his wife's sister was living, and left his son, Diego with her. From there he spent some time (approximately 2 years) with Count Luis de la Cerda. The Count, wrote a letter to the Cardinal of Spain, introducing Cristóbal Colón, and telling him of his desire to navigate to Cathay by sailing west. He also related that he had convinced Cristóbal not to go to France, to seek a concession from the King of France, but to go to Queen Isabela. The Count said that he was prepared to give Cristóbal the ships needed for the enterprise, but really thought that this was a matter for the Queen.

When Cristóbal arrived in Cordova, Andalusia, for his audience with the queen, (January 20, 1486) he had to support himself by being a book seller until the King and Queen arrived in court in April. During this time, he met Eatriz Enriques de Harana and had his second son Fernando with her, during the autumn of 1488.

The possibility of reaching the Indies by sailing west, interested the Monarchs, since the Treaty of Alcacovas, had awarded all of the Africa routes and trade to the Portuguese. Unfortunately, the King and Queen were fighting a bitter war with the Moors, trying to force the infidels off of Iberia. While Cristóbal waited for the wars to be over, he wrote the King of Portugal, again, requesting his support for the venture. Cristóbal also indicated in the letter, that he alone, was the only person that could succeed, since he knew the passage.

The King of Portugal answered Cristóbal in a letter dated March 20, 1488, in which he invited Cristóbal Colón to return to Portugal, that his debts, of which he fled Portugal, would be forgiven, and no charges would be brought upon him. He informed Cristóbal that he had proved to be a valuable friend of the Portuguese and they would like to confer with him, on this ideas and suggestions. At the end of that year, Bartolomeo Diaz sailed into Lisbon, after having reached the Cape of Good Hope, and rounding the southern most tip of Africa. With the route to the East Indies, now open, Portugal had no need for Cristóbal and his ideas of an alternate route to the East Indies.

Bartolomeo Colombo, was in Lisbon, when Diaz arrived in Portugal. Cristóbal saw that there was no expectation that he would get any help from Portugal, asked his brother, Bartolomeo to travel to England, to seek the help of King Henry VII. Bartolomeo returned saying that King Henry was greatly interested in the proposition, but the chronicler Oviedo, said the king thought it was the most ridiculous idea he had ever heard, and there was no way that England would be involved in such a scheme. 

During this time, Cristoforo Colombo changed his name to Cristóbal Colón. The final war with Granada had begun Cristóbal was summoned to Court, outside of Granada. Granada fell in December, 1489, and the Spanish Court was ready to take on in earnest, Cristóbal proposals. Spain lacked navigators and men of science, and believed that if the world was really round, then when one sails to the west, the ships would be going down hill, and there was no way, they could return, since the would have to be sailing up hill, an impossibility. They presented their conclusions to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabela, who were not convinced by the Spanish men of science, and informed Cristóbal that as soon as the war in Granada was concluded, they would take up Cristóbal plan. 

Bartolomeo Colombo, having failed to win the support of Henry VII, moved on to France to try to win the support of King Charles VIII. He summoned Cristóbal to travel to France, at the end of 1491. But in Granada, the tides of war, had turned in favor of Castilla and Leon. Boabdil and Ferdinand and Isabela signed a treaty in November and the Moors abandoned Granada on January 2, 1492. In the mean time, the prior of the La Rábida Monastery, Juan Pérez, convinced Cristóbal not to go to France and stay in Spain. Juan Pérez wrote Queen Isabela a letter, telling her of the merits of Cristóbal's plans, and telling her that it was a worthwhile venture.

When the Court was ready to accept Cristóbal Colón plan for the trip, he informed them of his demands. He demanded one-tenth of all of the riches he discovered, the title of Don Cristóbal Colón, the rank of Admiral of the Ocean and Viceroy and Governor of the Indies. These were the demands of the Genoese, who could not afford to feed, dress  himself or keep a horse. The Sovereigns were amazed at his demands, and refused totally.

When he was turned down by the Sovereigns, Cristóbal Colón revealed to his friend, Luis de Santángel, the king's treasurer, the secret of how to sail west to the Indies. This was the one secret that he had never revealed to anyone. That is why the Portuguese were never able to sail west of the Azores, attempting to steal Cristóbal Colón's ideas.

 Cristóbal Colón had sailed the coast of Europe as far north as England and south to the Canary's and Cape Verde in Africa and Guinea. He had studied the prevailing winds and currents, and had figured out, the best way to sail west. He knew that the winds were always blowing to the west in the northern oceans. At the level of the Azores, the winds blew towards the east, and off the northern coast of Africa, the winds blew west again.

Since the Royal Commission had refused his requests, Cristóbal Colón left Santa Fé, (Santa Fé was a city constructed by the Spanish, out side of Granada, during the war, as their temporary seat of government) towards Cordova. He did not get very far, when he was stopped by a horseman, ordering him back, to Santa Fé, and the presence of the Queen.

Luis de Santángel, interceded for Cristóbal Colón in Court and convinced the Queen to accept Cristóbal proposals. He admonished her, for listening to a commission when she could decide for her self. That Cristóbal ideas were good ones, and would bring fame and glory to the Catholic Church and to Spain. When she offered to put up her jewels to finance the trip, Luis told her that it would not be necessary, and he would raise the capital needed for the expedition. When this was agreed upon, Cristóbal was sent for.

On April 30, 1492, the King and Queen signed a contract with Cristóbal Colón pertaining to the expedition. It granted him everything he asked for, and made provisions for the ships and men to accompany him on his expedition. The longest of these documents dealt with his privileges and titles. He was to receive total command of the lands he discovered, and his titles and offices were to be passed on to his heirs, in perpetuity.

On May 12, 1492, Cristóbal left Granada to Palos, the shipping port from which he was to sail from on his expedition. He had secured from the Crown, letters ordering the residents of Palos, to provide 2 caravels at his disposal. Another document granted freedom to criminals in jail, if they elected to accompany him. Another letter instructed all the residents of the coast of Andalusia, to render any assistance and supplies, needed by Cristóbal, with delay.

First Voyage
1492 - 1493

Second Voyage
1493 - 1496

Third Voyage
1498 - 1500

Fourth Voyage
1502 - 1504

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June 21, 2002