Monday, October 10, 2011

Discovering Columbus Trivia on Columbus Day

Columbus lands in San Salvador claiming the land for Spain.
The Details
  • Columbus left on his historic voyage in 1492 on behalf of Spain even though Columbus was actually of Italian heritage.
  • Columbus set sail with three ships: the Nina, the Pinta and the flagship Santa Maria. A 'flagship' is the ship in a fleet that carries the commanding admiral (in this case, Columbus). The Santa Maria was a merchant ship of between 400 and 600 tons, about 75 feet long and a beam (widest width) of 25 feet. It had a depth of 6 feet with three masts: a mainmast, a foremast, and a mizzenmast. Five sails altogether were attached to these masts and each mast carried one large sail. As Columbus prepared to return to Spain, the Santa Maria ran into a coral reef that tore holes in the bottom of the ship. A fort was built out of the wreckage of the Santa Maria and since they were down to two ships 40 volunteers stayed behind to build a small colony.
  • There were about 90 people in Columbus' crew when he set sail.
  • The first celebration of Columbus' landing in the New World was in 1792 but Columbus Day became an official holiday in 1937 only after Italian immigrants lobbied for the recognition of Christopher Columbus, an Italian. Franklin Roosevelt instituted the first federal-level recognition of the day. 
  • Columbus never set foot in North America. His fleet landed on a small island in present-day Bahamas which Columbus claimed for Spain. He named it San Salvador and assuming he had reached "the Indies" (Asia), he gave the name "Indians" to the Native Americans he met on the island. When the Indians told Columbus about a larger island to the south, he thought it must be part of China or Japan but it was actually Cuba. Christopher Columbus was an explorer. The name Christopher Columbus is the Anglicisation of the Latin Christophorus Columbus. His name in Italian is Cristoforo Colombo and in Spanish it is Cristóbal Colón. Columbus was born sometime between August and October 1451 in Genoa, Italy. His father,  Domenico Colombo, was a wool weaver who worked both in Genoa and Savona and who also owned a cheese stand. His mother's name was Susanna.
Christopher Columbus
The National Holiday
  • The main purpose of Columbus Day is to mark Columbus' arrival in the Americas.
  • In most Latin American countries, Columbus Day is known as Da de la Raza and is also known as Discovery Day in the Bahamas, as Día de la Hispanidad and Fiesta Nacional in Spain and as Día de las Américas (Day of the Americas) in Uruguay. These holidays have been celebrated unofficially since the late 18th century, and officially in various areas since the early 20th century.
  • Colorado was the first U.S. state to adopt Columbus Day as an official state holiday.
  • Native American groups created their own holiday called indigenous People's Day or Native American Day as a counter to Columbus Day.
Columbus and Religion
  • The Catholic organization the Knights of Columbus was founded in the United States in 1882 by an Irish-America priest Father Michael McGivney (right). He named the organization after the Italian explorer who was a hero to many American Catholics and partly to bridge the division between Irish-Catholics and Catholic immigrants of other nationalities. It's mission was to provide insurance to care for widows and orphans left behind if the breadwinner of the family died. 
  • Washington Irving's 1828 biography of Columbus offered the idea that Columbus had difficulty obtaining support for his plan because many Catholic theologians insisted that the Earth was flat.
  • Columbus was also interested in the Bible and in biblical prophecies. Under the auspices of the Catholic Monarchs of Spain, Columbus himself saw his accomplishments as spreading the Christian religion.

The Happy Mistakes
  • Columbus was wrong and at odds with the scholars of his day in three ways: his low estimate of the size of the Earth, his high estimate of the size of the Eurasian landmass, and his belief that Japan and other inhabited islands lay far to the east of the coast of China. 
  • Mathematician, astronomer, and cosmographer, Paolo dal Pozzo Toscanelli, was born in Florence, Italy in 1397. He was one of the most distinguished scientists of the fifteenth century. Toscanelli's ideas of the geography of the Atlantic Ocean influenced Columbus' plans.
  • Columbus originally estimated the distance from the Canary Islands to Japan to be about 3,000 Italian miles when it was actually about 12,200 mi. 
  • Columbus possessed valuable knowledge about trade winds, which were the key to his successful navigation of the Atlantic Ocean. During his first voyage in 1492, the brisk trade winds from the east, commonly called 'easterlies', propelled Columbus' fleet for five weeks, from the Canary Islands to The Bahamas. 
  • Queen Isabella of Spain
  • During his first voyage in 1492, instead of reaching Japan as he had intended, Columbus landed in the Bahamas archipelago, at a locale he named San Salvador. On three more voyages, Columbus visited the Greater and Lesser Antilles, as well as the Caribbean coast of Venezuela and Central America, claiming all for the Spanish Empire.
The Funding
  • Trying to get funding for his voyage, Columbus first presented plans to John II, King of Portugal. He wanted three sturdy ships and one year's time to sail out into the Atlantic, search for a western route to the Orient, and return. The king's advisors rejected the plan. When explorer Bartolomeu Dias returned to Portugal after successfully rounding the Cape of Good Hope, Portugal thought it would soon have the eastern sea route to Asia under its control. The Portugese King was no longer interested in Columbus' project.
  • Columbus traveled from Portugal to both Genoa and Venice, but he received no encouragement there either.
  • Just when it seemed it would not happen, Columbus presented his ideas to King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile, Spain. Queen Isabella referred his plan to a committee who pronounced the idea impractical. However, to keep Columbus from taking his ideas elsewhere, the Catholic Monarchs gave him an annual allowance and furnished him with a letter ordering all cities and towns under their domain to provide him food and lodging at no cost. Almost half of the financing was to come from private Italian investors, whom Columbus had already lined up. The Spanish monarchs left it to the royal treasurer to shift funds among various royal accounts for the enterprise. Columbus was to be named 'Admiral of the Seas' and would receive a portion of all profits. The terms were unusually generous because the monarchs did not really expect him to return.
... And, The Miscellaneous
Leif Ericson
  • After the voyage, Columbus was arrested in 1500 and lost his title and earnings. When he died, his sons Diego and Fernando took legal action to enforce their father's contract.  
  • In 1479 Columbus married Filipa Moniz Perestrelo, daughter of the Porto Santo governor. In 1479 or 1480, his son Diego Columbus was born. Filipa either died in 1485 or Columbus may have just left her. Columbus found a mistress in Spain in 1487.
  • Ambitious, Columbus learned Latin, as well as Portuguese and Castilian and read many books about astronomy, geography, and history, including the works of Ptolemy, Cardinal Pierre d'Ailly's Imago Mundi, the travels of Marco Polo and Sir John Mandeville, Pliny's Natural History and Pope Pius II's Historia Rerum Ubique Gestarum. His ideas about the world that were simple, strong and often wrong.
  • The Norse expedition led by Leif Ericson (right) was the first to reach the Americas.
  • In 2008, a crime movie called Columbus Day starred Val Kilmer.
  • Even though Columbus was not the first European explorer to reach the Americas, his voyages led to the first European contact with America and the start of a period of exploration and colonization of foreign lands that lasted for many centuries. This had an enormous impact in thedevelopment of the modern Western world. 

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