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The motivation of the explorers

In the middle of the XV century, Constantinople was the source of the riches of the Byzantine Empire (Turkey in the present) making it the richest in all of Europe. Its geographical location greatly favored it’s commerce with Asia and the rest of the Old Continent, due to the exporting of precious silks, jewels, spices and other goods from the Middle East by being next to the Black and Aegean Sea.

The fall of Constantinople under the rule of the Ottoman Turks in the year 1453, caused a change en the world economy. The Muslim power in the capital of the Byzantine empire generated the end of the commerce of Europe with the Middle East, with the exception of the Italians, who became the only ones that negotiated with the Turks, since they had manifested their respect to the Sultan.

In this way, Spain and Portugal found themselves in need of finding new routes to the Middle East, and taking advantage of being near to the Atlantic Ocean, they started to search for paths that would take them to Asia to commercialize spices, luxury artifacts and all kinds of merchandise.

Columbus’s theories

Without even imaging the existence of another continent between Asia and Europe and with the strong conviction that the Earth was round, sailor Christopher Columbus had the idea of crossing the Atlantic Ocean towards the west in order to supposedly arrive as far as China and Japan.

Finding those that would support his theories, and even more, that would finance his sea journey, would not be an easy task for him, being ignored and rejected in Portugal. However, his luck would change, although they were slow to listen to him, due to the Granada war, the Catholic Monarchs financed the navigator’s endeavor, signing the Agreements of Santa Fe on April 17th of 1492, a document which conferred to the navigator the title of admiral for life, viceroy and general governor of all the territories to be discovered during his journey and part of the navigation and commerce taxes to be charged.

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The Discovery of America
On August 3rd 1492, three ships set sail from Puerto de Palos, starting a long journey…

Treaties of the European expansion
The discoveries and new maritime routes that could access commercial zones caused a territorial dispute between Portugal and Spain…

The Discovery of America

On August 3rd 1492, three ships set sail from Puerto de Palos, starting a long journey. The names of the ships were: La Niña, La Pinta, and La Santa Maria, which carried approximately 90 crew members.

The two caravels were commanded by the brothers Martin Alonso Pinzon and Vicente Yañez Pinzón, while Christopher Columbus was in charge of La Santa Maria carrack. The fist destination was the Canary Islands, place in which they took the opportunity of repairing the rudder of La Pinta, to head towards the west, on September 6th 1492.

During the journey, Columbus and the Pinzon brothers had to deal with various problems, among them mutiny of the crew, which could finally be controlled by the commanders. However, the disenchantment among the sailors grew stronger. This feeling later took hold of the Pinzon brothers, who, along with Columbus, agreed to return to Spain in three days if no mainland was found.

In the wee hours of the 11th going on to the 12th of October of 1492, the voice of Rodrigo de Triana filled the crew with hope: «Land», shouted the sailor, indicating the proximity of dry land. On the morning of October 12th, Columbus and his crew disembarked on the island of Guanahani, which Columbus later christened San Salvador (the current archipelago of the Bahamas).

The journeymen kept on sailing around the area and discovered more islands, among them, the one we know today as Cuba. (which they called Juana) and the one that Haiti and the Dominican Republic share nowadays (which they christened La Española)

Columbus decided to return to Spain during the first days of 1493, but when he was preparing to return, the Santa Maria carrack broke down and its remnants became parts for the construction of fort Navidad, where nearly 40 sailors stayed. During the trip to Spain, the vessels were attacked by a strong storm causing their separation and the sinking of La Niña. Finally, Columbus managed to arrive to Puerto de Palos on march 15th 1493. Later, the admiral left to Barcelona, where the Monarchs received him.

Conquer and Evangelize

After informing the Catholic Monarchs of his discovery, Columbus would begin his second journey (1493 – 1496) – back to what he assumed to be the Middle East –, departing from Cadiz, this time with 17 vessels and close to 1,200 crewmen. Columbus’s mission was to economically exploit the natural resources of the discovered lands and to convert the natives. In order to achieve this he was accompanied by a large number of armed men and religious men. Thus, after arriving to the island La Deseada, the expedition traveled through parts of the Lesser Antilles as far as Puerto Rico. However, upon arriving to fort Navidad, they found out that it had been razed by the natives.

Later, Columbus founded the first Hispanic settlement in the New World, which was baptized as La Isabela (1494), to the north of what is now the Dominican Republic. The expedition would last almost three years, after this time Columbus returned to Spain.

The other journeys

In Spain, they expected Columbus to arrive with abundant riches, but none of this happened. This situation generated disappointment in the authorities and provoked a series of obstacles in the planning of a new journey. Despite of the problems, Columbus managed to assemble his third expedition (1498), arriving on August 4th at the height of the mouth of the Orinoco river (river of Venezuela)

In this journey, Columbus had to face many revolts. Thus, before the progressive deterioration of his relationship with his crewmen, the monarchs sent a special judge. He was Francisco de Bobadilla, who arrived to Santo Domingo (1500) and as his first actions he dismissed Columbus and his brothers from their offices subjecting them to a trial.

Upon hearing of these decisions, the Catholic Monarchs disavowed Bobadilla. Additionally, they used this juncture to withdraw a great part of Columbus’s privileges. Columbus on his part, continued with his eagerness of conquest and achieved a fourth journey (1502-1504) in which he could explore more islands, cross the Caribbean Sea and disembark in what is now Honduras, as far as the isthmus of Panama.

However, up to this point, Columbus was in debt and his rights were being discussed. He decided to go back to Spain on September 12th 1504.

The navigator died convinced that he had arrived to the Middle East. Only after 1507 – thanks to the investigations of Amerigo Vespucci – the lands discovered by Columbus were recognized as a New World and took the first name of Vespucci, that is to say, it was called America.

Treaties of the European expansion

The discoveries and new maritime routes that could access commercial zones caused a territorial dispute between Portugal and Spain. This way, when European exploration voyages began, it was necessary to reach agreements in order to have clarity regarding future confrontations, first ending up with the treaty of Alcáçovas-Toledo (1479), which among its points highlighted the fact that the Spanish would not send exploration companies to Africa without Portugal’s consent. With this, the Portuguese hegemony over the “black continent” was reaffirmed, and a pact of permanent peace was drafted between both countries.

However, the arrival of Columbus to America marked a breaking point in the relations of these two countries, because according to John II of Portugal, the Spanish had broken the treaty of Alcáçovas-Toledo, as they had trespassed the maritime border located south of the Canaries. Due to this, the Catholic Monarchs requested the intervention of pope Alexander VI as a mediator. The pontiff signed two documents that established norms regarding the new territories. The first of them is the Inter Caetera  papal bull (1493), which awarded Spain autonomy in the lands discovered and that were to be discovered. Meanwhile, the second treaty declared the division of the world into two parts (one for Spain and the other for Portugal), which would be carried out through an imaginary line that crossed the Atlantic from north to south one hundred leagues west of the Azores and Cape Verde.

But pope Alexander VI’s ruling was not definite, because the treaty or Tordesillas would later come into effect on June 7th 1494, where the Portuguese imposed their terms and managed to shift the demarcation line more to the west. 

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