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View series: The Age of Discovery

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Christopher Columbus’ first voyage 1492-1493

This map is part of a series of 16 animated maps showing the history of The Age of Discovery.

Before undertaking his first voyage, Christopher Columbus had sailed on Portuguese ships in the Atlantic Ocean along the African coast to the south and to the British Isles and perhaps Iceland to the north.

But when Lisbon refused to finance his new project, he turned to King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile and asked them to sponsor his voyage to Asia by sailing across the ocean in a westerly direction.

His flotilla of three ships set sail from Southern Spain on 3 August 1492. It headed first for the Canary Islands, where it stayed in port for a month.

Early in September, the ships set a course towards the west.  After a few weeks at sea, the crew began to worry that their mission was a failure, and on 10 October they complained and threatened a mutiny, forcing Christopher Columbus to agree to turn back if no land was sighted within three days.

Two days later, on 12 October, the flotilla anchored off an inhabited island in the Bahamas.  The island was given the name of San Salvador and the sailors called the inhabitants ‘Indians’, because they were convinced they had reached India.

Deciding to go further in search of gold and the continent of Asia, Columbus spent another two months sailing around in the Caribbean Sea. He discovered the islands of Juana, now Cuba, on 26 October and Hispaniola, now Santo Domingo, on 6 December.

When one of his three ships was lost after being driven onto the coast, he was forced to leave 40 men behind before turning back.

The fleet set a north-easterly course until it reached the latitude of the Azores, and then headed due east in order to take advantage of the trade winds for the trip home to Europe.

To prove that he had indeed found land, Christopher Columbus brought back a few natives, some gold and some parrots.

Three ships: These were a carrack named the Santa Maria and two caravels, the Pinta and the Nina.