For historians, October 12, 1492, marks the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the Modern Era. This is the day Europeans discovered the existence of the American continent. In the 15th Century there was no communication between Eurasia and America, the planet’s two largest continents. The populations inhabiting America mostly traveled over land, and limited exploration to the inner regions of the American continent. Eurasian populations, on the other hand, were more active, and had already ventured beyond southern Europe into Africa, and south of China into India. They fought among themselves for commercial supremacy over the known world, and were eager to discover new territories to exploit.

In the 15th Century the Indian peninsula was considered the most appealing new territory. Arab populations were very familiar with India, having reached it via the Arabian Sea. Europeans were now familiar with India as well, but in order to reach it they had to cross lands to the east, coming into conflict with the Arabs. European countries were set on opening a sea route to India in order to bypass the territories controlled by Arabs. Already in 1486, Italian explorer Christopher Columbus sought support from the European courts for his project to find an alternative route to India, not from the East, but from the West, across the Atlantic Ocean. Little did he know that another continent lay in his way, blocking the route between Europe and India. Columbus’s project was risky. The hypothesis that the Earth was round still hadn’t been proven. European sovereigns were afraid of financing a quest doomed to failure. After having his proposal rejected for six years straight, in 1492 Columbus finally gained the support of Spanish monarchs Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella of Castile, who gave him three caravels and a crew of 120 men. The expedition set sail from Palos, in Spain, on August 3, 1492. After a stopover in the Canary Islands and 36 days of uninterrupted sailing out on the open ocean, Columbus sighted land on October 12, 1492.

Columbus was convinced he had reached India. In reality, he’d landed in the Lesser Antilles, an outpost of the American continent.
Ten years later, another Italian explorer, Amerigo Vespucci, figured out that the land beyond the Atlantic was in fact a new continent. The continent would be called “America” in his honor. In truth, Norman sailing expeditions had already ventured as far as the coasts of America, long before Columbus’s arrival. But Columbus was the first to reach the New World with the support of a powerful, organized nation. This is why Christopher Columbus is remembered as the discoverer of America: he was the one who opened communication between the two continents, initiating the conquest of the New World.
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