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Christopher Columbus and Portugal

Columbus owed the most important part of his cultural and nautical training to his decade-long residence in Portugal.

Years:  1476 — 1494

In his mission of “giving new Worlds to the World”, the Portuguese furnished the means for large enterprises to take place outside their direct influence.  The most famous of all these was the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus.

Columbus owed the most important part of his cultural and nautical training to his decade-long residence in Portugal, where he came in 1476, at the age of 25.  His coming was perhaps linked with his interest in participating in the Madeira sugar trade, which reaped large profits and attracted many Italians to Portugal.  His acceptance in Portuguese society allowed him to marry Filippa Perestrelo, possibly in 1479.  The couple’s only son, Diogo, was born the following year.

In 1482/3, Columbus made at least one voyage to Guinea and to the castle of S. Jorge da Mina, an event that shows that he was well-integrated in the most important Portuguese mercantile operations.  It was during his Atlantic voyages between Portugal, Madeira, and the African coast that Columbus learned some of the modern techniques of nautical astronomy and familiarized himself with the regime of winds and maritime currents that the Portuguese had discovered since the mid-15th century. 

Moreover, it was in the Portuguese maritime milieu that Columbus heard stories about the existence of islands to the west and came to know theories that defended the possibility of being able to reach the Far East by heading westward.  Based on this data, Columbus proposed to King D. João II, possibly in 1484, to undertake an expedition aimed at discovering the maritime route to Asia by sailing to the west.  This proposal, however, was denied by the king.

As a result of his being denied, and his wife having already died, Columbus left for Spain in 1485 with his son, Diogo to present his plan to their Catholic Majesties. As a result of Columbus’ famous voyage undertaken in 1492/3, negotiations took place that led to the signing of the Treaty of Tordesilhas on June 7, 1494.  By this treaty, the zones of influence in the areas discovered and to be discovered were divided between Portugal and Spain.

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