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Christopher Columbus (1451-1506) was a navigator and explorer whose famous 1492 voyage from Spain to the West Indies marked the beginning of successful European colonization of the Americas. On 12 October 1492, Columbus and his crews aboard the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria made landfall in the Bahamas. Upon his return to Spain, news of the explorer's discoveries captivated Europe. Though Columbus was not the first European to discover the Americas, his four voyages helped open trans-Atlantic navigation and facilitated European conquest of the New World. He made three subsequent journeys to the New World, "discovering" many islands in the Caribbean and mapping the coast of Central and South America.

Columbus' momentous first voyage shook the world and paved the way for Spanish colonization of the New World. Though Columbus himself refused to believe—to the end of his life—that he had discovered a new continent, others quickly seized on the implications of his four voyages. Today a figure of some controversy, in his own time Columbus was hailed as a hero. He even tried to force Queen Isabella to make good on her promises to appoint him Governor of all his discovered lands, leading to a protracted legal case that still saw his heirs in court over 150 years after his death.

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