Christopher Columbus was born in Genoa sometime in 1451. Today, Genoa is part of Italy, but when Columbus was around it was an independent republic and busy trading center — and the wealthiest city in the western Mediterranean. Born the son of a weaver who may have dabbled in real estate, history indicates that Columbus was from at least a moderately wealthy family as he spoke several languages by adulthood — including Latin, Portuguese, Spanish, and perhaps Catalan — and was also well-read in classical literature.
What did Columbus do besides sail to the New World?
For reasons unknown, Columbus went to sea as a young man, only to become shipwrecked in Portugal. He then traveled on merchant voyages to Ghana, Ireland, and Iceland. When the Turks captured Constantinople in 1453, the price of Asian trade goods skyrocketed in Europe. Explorers realized the fortune to be made if a route to the Indies — China, India, and Japan — could be found that bypassed the Turk/Muslim-controlled waters of the Middle East. Columbus decided to sail west, going the long way around the world and arriving in China from the east. He tried to interest the King of Portugal in his plan, but the Portuguese believed it impossible. Eventually, the King and Queen of Spain granted Columbus three ships, and he set sail on his first voyage on August 3, 1492.
Columbus spent the rest of his life financing and making voyages to the New World (he died still convinced that he was in the West Indies and that China was somewhere nearby). In total, he made four voyages over 12 years, landing on numerous Caribbean Islands including Hispaniola, Cuba, Jamaica, the Canary Islands, and Trinidad. He did not reach the American continent until his third voyage (he made landfall on South and Central America, but never laid eyes on the North American continent).