History Time: On this day 1492 Christopher Columbus travels to America

On this day in 1492, the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus left Spain to sail across the Atlantic ocean. He thought he would find Asia, but instead he made the first European discovery of America…

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Christopher Columbus

Christopher Columbus is the name of a man most people know for his explorations during the 15th century. Columbus was an Italian explorer who was financed by the Spanish royalty to compete with the Portuguese in the “Age of Exploration”. During that era, ships sailing to Asia took long and dangerous routes. Explorers that were sent out to sea were also asked to find new lands and bring wealth back to the country they represented.

The Atlantic Ocean

Columbus made four trips across the Atlantic Ocean: 1492, 1493, 1498 and 1502. On one voyage he was searching for India, and when he landed in America, he thought it was India and called the people “Indians.” The 15th and 16th centuries were together called the “Age of Exploration,” and with newly designed ships, many countries were sending explorers out to find spices, gold, and other items from Africa and Asia. Spain and Portugal led the way with the most ships and explorers and it was during this time that Christopher Columbus was given ships to sail to unknown territory to claim land for Spain.

Early Years 

He was born on October 31, 1451, in Genoa, Italy, and began sailing when he was just a teenager. Columbus was married to Felipa Moniz Perestrelo, in 1477 who later died while giving birth in 1485. In his early life, Columbus studied cartography, mathematics, astronomy, and navigation. These lessons were valuable for his future voyages.

Columbus had different ideas

The Portuguese had figured out a way to make the sailing route to Asia shorter, but Columbus had a different idea. He believed he could sail across the Atlantic instead of around the African Cape of Good Hope, and then he planned his voyages. Columbus thought that the people who calculated the circumference of the Earth were wrong. He thought it was smaller than the experts said and that an easier journey was possible. Soon he realised he was incorrect, but it did bring him to other successes. Columbus approached both the Portuguese and the English to accomplish his ideas, but only Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile, monarchs of Spain were interested. Their goal was more land, riches, and expansion of the Catholic religion, and they believed that Columbus had the right ideas. Columbus made an agreement with the Spanish monarchs to keep ten percent of the riches he could find as well as having a Spanish noble title, and to be the governor of any lands that he discovered.

Discoveries in 1492

1492 is the famous year that Columbus launched the ships named the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria, with the objective to find a shorter route to the East Indies. The first landing was on one of the islands in the Bahamas. Columbus and the three ships sailed for months from one island to the next in the Caribbean. At this point, they were searching for riches like gold, silver, precious stones and spices. By 1493 Columbus had to leave some of the men from the ships behind in a place they called Hispaniola; (today’s Haiti and the Dominican Republic) so he could return to Spain.

Detailed diary

Columbus kept a very detailed diary of the first voyage, writing about everything from daily life with the crew to animals they saw. The diary includes very racist impressions of local island people. Six months later Columbus began another voyage to America. His voyage to find riches was a failure but he brought 500 slaves back to Queen Isabella. To the surprise of Columbus, Isabella did not want to take the slaves as she thought these people were Spanish subjects.

What happened in 1498

By 1498 Columbus was on his third voyage and this time he stopped at the mainland of South America and Trinidad. When he sailed back to Hispaniola, the colonists had revolted and the native Taino population had all been killed. Columbus was arrested and returned to Spain in chains, where he was cleared of charges in 1502 but lost his noble title. The last voyage for the old Columbus took his ship to Panama, only miles from the Pacific Ocean. After storms damaged two of the four ships, he abandoned them and returned to Spain where he died in 1506.


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History Time: The Italian Economic Miracle 1958- 1963

With the Italian economy currently paused due to the terrible outbreak of Covid-19 in the country, we take a look into a historical event that could provide some reasons to be positive and hopeful for the future after the crisis.

After World War II the Italian economy, similar to now, was in a terrible position. Fighting and bombing in the country had reduced many cities to rubble and foreign armies had been occupying the country for years. People were poor and mainly lived in rural areas. Following the war, the Americans and others were worried that Italy could become a communist country, so they pumped £1.5 billion into the economy between 1948 and 1954 as part of the Marshall Plan to make sure this would not happen.

This stimulated the economy greatly and Italian economy began to climb back to the level it was at before the war. Italy still had a big population and therefore a large and cheap labour force ready for action. Korean War in 1950 helped the steel industry and the manufacturing and export sectors continued to grow. Italy joined the European Common Market in 1957, bringing more investments and the possibility of Middle Eastern oil exploration and from then on the economy boomed. The economic triangle in the north became famous for producing fashionable clothes and shoes, typewriters, refrigerators, washing machines, scooters like the Vespa and Lambretta and cars which included the economical Fiats and the more luxury Lamborghini and Alfa Romeo. Many people, approximately 9 million, moved from the South to the North to find jobs in the new factories and the cities of Milan, Turin and Genoa exploded with new metropolitan areas. For the first time many people were able to afford cars, televisions and washing machines. Between 1950 and 1962 the GDP of Italy doubled and the standard of living for the entire population increased dramatically.

This can surely be a lesson that out of the darkness there can come light. At the moment Italy faces a grave and serious situation indeed, as the inability of people to move and the collapse of tourism has greatly hurt the economy. Another economic boom could be the solution, although with climate change affecting the world also, perhaps this crisis will be the moment we are shaken from our sleep and the following decades will result in the real change that Italy and the rest of the world needs.

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History Time: The Great Plague of Milan 1629-1631

We live in a very clean and sanitised period of time compared to hundreds of years ago. In 1629, Europe and the rest of the world was still reeling from centuries of outbreaks of bubonic plague, beginning with the Black Death in the 14th century. This was the time Milan experienced its last outbreak of disease that terrified and shut down the city.

With many soldiers moving around the Northern Italy region due to the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), due to poor sanitation, the plague spread quickly throughout the area. French and German troops initially carried the disease to Mantua and then infected Venitian soldiers brought it to Milan in October 1629. At the time the city was, as it is now, the main commercial centre of Lombardy. The city initially, similarly to today, introduced measures to stop the spread of the disease. They quarantined German goods and soldiers and people tried to stay indoors away from the infected. However, despite these measures, the plague continued to grow amongst the population. During the carnival season in March 1630 the measures were relaxed and a second wave of cases hit the city. Fear and suspicion was rife, and as Alessandro Manzoni has written about, some people were put on trial and executed, accused of being ‘plague spreaders’.  When the disease arrived in the city in 1629, the population was 130,000. By the end of the plague in 1631, 60,000 people had died, nearly half the number of people living there two years before.

Of course it is interesting to note that there are some similarities between now and then. However, considering the history reminds us we are far away from a disaster such as that one currently in Milan. Thankfully we live in a much cleaner and safer world, with far better healthcare and knowledge of how illness spreads. Fingers crossed we will see a slowing of the spread of this virus and we can all go back to living as normal.

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