From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Christopher Columbus (1451 – May 20, 1506) was a navigator, colonizer, and explorer who was instrumental in Spanish colonization of the Americas. Though not the first to reach the Americas from Europe, Columbus' voyages led to general European awareness of the hemisphere and the successful establishment of European cultures in the New World. It is generally believed that he was born in Genoa, although other theories exist. The name Christopher Columbus is the Anglicization of the Latin Christophorus Columbus. Also well known are his name's rendering in modern Italian as Cristoforo Colombo, in Portuguese as Cristóvão Colombo (formerly Christovam Colom), and in Spanish as Cristóbal Colón.
Columbus' voyages across the Atlantic Ocean began a European effort at exploration and colonization of the Western Hemisphere. While history places great significance on his first voyage of 1492, he did not actually reach the American mainland until his third voyage in 1498. Instead, he made landfall on an island in the Bahamas Archipelago that he named San Salvador while trying to find a sea route to India, hence the indigenous inhabitants being called "Indians". Likewise, he was not the earliest European explorer to reach the Americas, and there are accounts of European transatlantic contact prior to 1492. Nevertheless, Columbus's voyage came at a critical time of growing national imperialism and economic competition between developing nation states seeking wealth from the establishment of trade routes and colonies. The term Pre-Columbian is sometimes used to refer to the people and cultures of the Americas before the arrival of Columbus and further European influence.