On May 20, 1506, the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus died in Valladolid, Spain. Columbus was the first European to explore the Americas since the Vikings established colonies in Greenland and Newfoundland in the 10th century. He explored the West Indies, South America and Central America, but died of a disappointed man, feeling that he had been ill-treated by his boss, King Ferdinand of Spain.

READ MORE: Christopher Columbus: His Voyages & Legacy

Columbus was probably born in Genoa, Italy, in 1451. Little is known about his youth, but he worked as a sailor and then a sailing entrepreneur. He became obsessed with the possibility of launching a western sea route to Cathay (China), India and the legendary islands of gold and spices from Asia. At the time, Europeans did not know of a direct sea route to South Asia, and the route via Egypt and the Red Sea was closed to Europeans by the Ottoman Empire, as were many land routes. Contrary to popular legend, the day of Columbus’ educated Europeans believed that the world was round, as Saint Isidore argued in the 7th century. However, Columbus and most others have underestimated the size of the world, calculating that East Asia must be roughly where North America is on the globe (they did not yet know that the Pacific Ocean existed).

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