Why were the Europeans interested in colonizing America?

Discovery of America

Accidentally discovered

October 12, 1492: The keel of the "Santa Maria" can only with difficulty cut through the thick carpet of seaweed that covers the Atlantic Ocean. "The coast is not far," Christopher Columbus has been telling his impatient sailors for days, even weeks.

But so far he has not kept his promise. The Genoese in Spanish service is on his way to discover a sea route to Asia.

The supplies are almost used up and Columbus is about to turn around discouraged when the sailor in the main mast first discovers a reed, then a log and then - far in the distance - a strip of land. He rings the ship's bell wildly.

Cheers on board! And the natives, who later greet the newcomers on the beach, cheer when Columbus sticks the Spanish flag into the coastal sand.

Columbus thinks he has reached Asia. All he has to do is put his foot on a huge land block that blocks his way there. Intoxicated by the joy of discovery, he wandered a little later and ended up in Cuba.

He founds a Spanish colony in Haiti, which Columbus calls "Hispaniola". He returns to Spain with boxes full of gold and spices and lets himself be celebrated with a gun salute.

Who took the first step?

Is Columbus the Discoverer of America? This view is controversial. Again and again the Vikings come into conversation, who are said to have been stranded on the coast of Canada after an odyssey across the Atlantic around the year 1000. Columbus may have known about it and could see their maps.

The Chinese navigator Zheng He is often named as the discoverer of America. At the beginning of 2006, a Chinese collector found a map from 1413, on which America, Asia and Europe are already drawn. But whether this card is real and thus the Chinese are the true discoverers of the "New World", nobody really knows.

In Columbus' life, too, so much dissolves into questions and doubts, into uncertainties and nonsense, into myths. Nobody wrote a portrait of him in his lifetime. Everything that is known about him today is based on tradition.

Even the year of birth can only be estimated. Cristoforo Colombo, his Italian name, was probably born in Genoa in 1451 - ironically, in the same year as the navigator Amerigo Vespucci, after whom America is later named.

Columbus is the son of a simple wool weaver from Genoa. In his youth he made his way through life as a sugar trader, nautical chart maker and - according to rumors - also as a pirate. He is fascinated by seafaring, by the feeling of being on the move. And he dreams of finding a sea route across the Atlantic to China, Japan, India.

The fabulous Asia

The descriptions of the Asian traveler Marco Polo nourish his dreams. The distant continent promises wealth, power and honor. Columbus searches with devotion for clues in the Old and New Testament and calculates that the distance between Spain and India must be about 6000 kilometers. Course west.

Columbus miscalculates everything that can only be wrongly calculated. He, who has never attended university, who is obsessed with his ideas but not particularly talented, underestimates the circumference of the earth - about a quarter. But he will not understand that all his life.

He is convinced of his plan and wants to go to the royal houses to collect money for his expedition. In 1484 he finally got an audience with the Portuguese king. He just laughs tiredly. Asia in a week or two? Impossible! Columbus moves to the Spanish royal court.

But Isabella and her husband Ferdinand are initially also not interested in the plans. It is more important for them to free their country from the Arabs. You forward Columbus' cards to a commission. The scholars are certain that Columbus' travel route was pure nonsense and that this "crazy Italian" made a huge calculation error.

Columbus doesn't give up. And finally it is heard by Isabella. The Queen of the Spaniards is intoxicated with the idea of ​​winning the race to discover distant lands against Portugal. She lets herself be dazzled by Columbus ’charm, the gold promises and the prospect of converting the foreign peoples to the Christian faith.

Isabella and Ferdinand appoint Columbus "Admiral of the Oceans", offer him a share of the profits and three ships - Santa Maria, Niña, Pinta. On August 3, 1492, before sunrise, Columbus sails out to the Atlantic from the port city of Palos.