Columbus Day originated as a celebration of Italian-American heritage and was first held in San Francisco in 1869. The first state-wide celebration was held in Colorado in 1907. In 1937, Columbus Day become a holiday across the United States.
Since 1971, it has been celebrated on the second Monday in October. This date, which represents the day that Columbus arrived in the Americas is also celebrated as the Día de la Raza (Day of the Race) in Latin America and some Latino communities in the USA. However, it is a controversial holiday in some countries and has been re-named in others.
Here are 10 fun facts about the sailor who remains “the discoverer of the Americas”:
1. Columbus did not set out to prove the earth was round.
Contrary to popular belief by 1492 most educated people knew that the world was round, but they did not yet know that the Pacific Ocean existed. As a result, Columbus and his contemporaries assumed that only the Atlantic lay between Europe and the riches of the East Indies.
2. Christopher Columbus was not the first European to cross the Atlantic.
Leif Eriksson, a Norse Viking, is believed to have landed in present-day Newfoundland around 1000 A.D., almost five centuries before Columbus set sail. If we go further back, some historians even claim that Ireland’s Saint Brendan or other Celtic people crossed the Atlantic before Eriksson.
3. Three countries refused to finance Columbus’ voyage.
Portugal, England and France refused to finance Columbus’ quest to discover a western sea route to Asia. According to the royal advisors, his calculations were wrong and the journey would take much longer than he thought. In Spain similar concerns were raised to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. Advisors were right, Christopher Columbus underestimated the earth’s circumference and the size of the oceans. That’s why (luckily for him and his crew) he ran into the uncharted Americas.
4. Columbus’ had several ships but Nina and Pinta were not the real names.
In 15th-century Spain, ships were traditionally named after saints. However, one of the three ships on Columbus’ 1492 voyage was dubbed the Pinta, Spanish for “the painted one” or “prostitute.” The Santa Clara, was nicknamed the Nina in honor of its owner, Juan Nino. Finally, the Santa Maria is called by its official name, even if its nickname was La Gallega, after the province of Galicia in which it was built.
5. The Santa Maria was wrecked on Columbus’ historic voyage.
On Christmas Eve of 1492, the ship ran into a coral reef on the northern coast of Hispaniola, near present-day Cap Haitien, Haiti. The whole crew spent Christmas night salvaging the Santa Maria. Columbus returned to Spain aboard the Nina, but he had to leave nearly 40 crewmembers behind to start the first European settlement in the Americas (La Navidad).
Sadly, when Columbus returned to the settlement in the fall of 1493, none of the crew were found alive.
6. Columbus made four voyages to the New World.
Although best known for his historic 1492 expedition, Columbus returned to the Americas three more times in the following decade. His voyages took him to Caribbean islands, South America and Central America.
7. Columbus returned to Spain in chains in 1500.
Columbus’s governance of Hispaniola could be brutal and tyrannical. Native islanders who did not collect enough gold could have their hands cut off, and rebel Spanish colonists were executed at the gallows. Colonists complained to the monarchy about mismanagement and a royal commissioner dispatched to Hispaniola arrested Columbus in August 1500 and brought him back to Spain in chains. Although Columbus was stripped of his governorship, King Ferdinand not only granted the explorer his freedom but subsidized a fourth voyage.
8. Tintin and Christopher Columbus both used a lunar eclipse as their “savior”
In February 1504, Christopher Columbus was stranded in Jamaica, abandoned by half his crew and denied food by the islanders. Once again, the heavens that he relied on for navigation, would save him. Knowing from his almanac that a lunar eclipse was coming on February 29, 1504, Columbus warned the islanders that his god was upset with their refusal of food and that the moon would “rise inflamed with wrath” as an expression of divine displeasure. On the appointed night, the eclipse darkened the moon and turned it red, and the terrified islanders offered provisions and beseeched Columbus to ask his god for mercy. A tintin story was inspired by this.
9. Columbus continued to cross the Atlantic after his death.
Following his death in 1506, Columbus was buried in Valladolid, Spain, and then moved to Seville. At the request of his daughter-in-law, the bodies of Columbus and his son Diego were shipped across the Atlantic to Hispaniola and interred in a Santo Domingo cathedral. When the French captured the island in 1795, the Spanish dug up remains thought to be those of the explorer and moved them to Cuba before returning them to Seville after the Spanish-American War in 1898. However, a box with human remains and the explorer’s name was discovered inside the Santo Domingo cathedral in 1877. Did the Spaniards exhume the wrong body? DNA testing in 2006 found evidence that at least some of the remains in Seville are those of Columbus. The Dominican Republic has refused to let the other remains be tested. It could be possible that pieces of Columbus are both in the New World and the Old World.
10. Legacy: Heirs of Columbus and the Spanish monarchy were in litigation until 1790.
After the death of Columbus, his heirs waged a lengthy legal battle with the Spanish crown, claiming that the monarchy short-changed them on money and profits that were owed to the explorer. Most of the Columbus lawsuits were settled by 1536, but the legal proceedings nearly dragged on until the 300th anniversary of Columbus’ famous voyage.
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