The Republic of Chile (República de Chile), is a South American country occupying a long, narrow strip of land between the Andes to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. It borders Peru to the north, Bolivia to the northeast, Argentina to the east, and the Drake Passage in the far south. Chilean territory includes the Pacific islands of Juan Fernández, Salas y Gómez, Desventuradas, and Easter Island in Oceania. Chile also claims about 480,000 square miles (1,250,000 square kilometers) of Antarctica, although all claims are suspended under the Antarctic Treaty. The country stretches over 2,670 miles (4,300 km) north to south, but only 217 miles (350 km) at its widest point east to west making it among the longest north-south countries in the world. This encompasses a remarkable variety of climates and landscapes between latitudes 17° and 56°S, and longitudes 66° and 75°W.
Stone tool evidence indicates humans sporadically frequented the Monte Verde valley area as long as 18,500 years ago. About 10,000 years ago, migrating Native Americans settled in fertile valleys and coastal areas of what is present-day Chile. Settlement sites from very early human habitation include Monte Verde, Cueva del Milodon and the Pali Aike Crater’s lava tube. The Incas briefly extended their empire into what is now northern Chile, but the Mapuche (or Araucanians as they were known by the Spaniards) successfully resisted many attempts by the Inca Empire to subjugate them, despite their lack of state organization. They fought against the Sapa Inca Tupac Yupanqui and his army. The result of the bloody three-day confrontation known as the Battle of the Maule was that the Inca conquest of the territories of Chile ended at the Maule River.
In 1520, while attempting to circumnavigate the globe, Ferdinand Magellan discovered the southern passage now named after him, the Strait of Magellan, thus becoming the first European to set foot on what is now Chile. The next Europeans to reach Chile were Diego de Almagro and his band of Spanish conquistadors, who came from Peru in 1535 seeking gold. The Spanish encountered various cultures that supported themselves principally through slash-and-burn agriculture and hunting. The conquest of Chile began in earnest in 1540 and was carried out by Pedro de Valdivia, one of Francisco Pizarro’s lieutenants, who founded the city of Santiago on February 12, 1541. Although the Spanish did not find the extensive gold and silver they sought, they recognized the agricultural potential of Chile’s central valley, and Chile became part of the Spanish Empire.
Conquest took place gradually, and the Europeans suffered repeated setbacks. A massive Mapuche insurrection that began in 1553 resulted in Valdivia’s death and the destruction of many of the colony’s principal settlements. Subsequent major insurrections took place in 1598 and in 1655. Each time the Mapuche and other native groups revolted, the southern border of the colony was driven northward. The abolition of slavery by the Spanish crown in 1683 was done in recognition that enslaving the Mapuche intensified resistance rather than cowing them into submission. Despite royal prohibitions, relations remained strained from continual colonialist interference.
Cut off to the north by desert, to the south by the Mapuche, to the east by the Andes Mountains, and to the west by the ocean, Chile became one of the most centralized, homogeneous colonies in Spanish America. Serving as a sort of frontier garrison, the colony found itself with the mission of forestalling encroachment by both the Mapuche and Spain’s European enemies, especially the British and the Dutch. Buccaneers and English adventurers menaced the colony in addition to the Mapuche, as was shown by Sir Francis Drake’s 1578 raid on Valparaíso, the colony’s principal port. Chile hosted one of the largest standing armies in the Americas, making it one of the most militarized of the Spanish possessions, as well as a drain on the treasury of the Viceroyalty of Peru.
Posts first achieved a measure of efficiency when a regular monthly service between Buenos Aires and Santiago (which took 15 days) started in 1748. This became an extension of the royal packet from Spain after 1772. MS markings are known from 1762 and handstamps from 1770. Inland services began in 1762, Santiago being linked with Concepci6n and Valparalso.
The first general census was conducted by the government of Agustín de Jáuregui between 1777 and 1778; it indicated that the population consisted of 259,646 inhabitants: 73.5 percent of European descent, 7.9 percent mestizos, 8.6 percent indigenous peoples and 9.8 percent blacks.
In 1808, Napoleon’s enthronement of his brother Joseph as the Spanish King precipitated the drive by the colony for independence from Spain. A national junta in the name of Ferdinand — heir to the deposed king — was formed on September 18, 1810 and proclaimed Chile an autonomous republic within the Spanish monarchy.
After these events, a movement for total independence, under the command of José Miguel Carrera and his two brothers Juan José and Luis Carrera, soon gained a wider following. Spanish attempts to re-impose arbitrary rule during what was called the Reconquista led to a prolonged struggle, including infighting from Bernardo O’Higgins, who challenged Carrera’s leadership. Intermittent warfare continued until 1817. With Carrera in prison in Argentina, O’Higgins and anti-Carrera cohort José de San Martín, hero of the Argentine War of Independence, led an army that crossed the Andes into Chile and defeated the royalists.
On February 12, 1818, Chile was proclaimed an independent republic. The political revolt brought little social change, however, and nineteenth-century Chilean society preserved the essence of the stratified colonial social structure, which was greatly influenced by family politics and the Roman Catholic Church. A strong presidency eventually emerged, but wealthy landowners remained powerful.
Chile slowly started to expand its influence and to establish its borders. By the Tantauco Treaty, the archipelago of Chiloé was incorporated in 1826. The economy began to boom due to the discovery of silver ore in Chañarcillo, and the growing trade of the port of Valparaíso, which led to conflict over maritime supremacy in the Pacific with Peru. At the same time, attempts were made to strengthen sovereignty in southern Chile intensifying penetration into Araucanía and colonizing Llanquihue with German immigrants in 1848. Through the founding of Fort Bulnes by the schooner Ancud under the command of John Williams Wilson, the Magallanes region joined the country in 1843, while the Antofagasta area, at the time part of, Bolivia, began to fill with people.
The first regular coastal mail services in Chile were started in 1840 by the Pacific Steam Navigation Company, and a contract to carry mail from Valparaiso to Panama via intermediate ports was signed with the British government in 1845. Such mail was conveyed over the isthmus to Chagres to be transferred to ships of the Royal Mail Steam Packet Co. for Britain and Europe. Chile was briefly served in 1872-4 by French packets of Ligne F, by which Valparaiso, Coquimbo, Huasco and Caldera were linked with ports northward to Panama.
On July 1, 1853, Chile released its first two postage stamps, the first in the world to portray Christopher Columbus. Known as the London Prints, a five centavo value described by the Scott catalogue as brown red in color on blued paper (Scott #1) and a ten centavo denomination in deep bright blue on white paper (Scott #2) were printed by the British firm of Perkins Bacon & Co. by the same process — engraving — and in the same colors as their current stamps for Britain (l penny red and 2 pence blue). Printed in inappropriate sheets of 240 (Chile having a decimal currency), they were issued imperforate. Scott #1 has a watermarked double-lined 5 with a slanting neck (about 9mm high) while Scott #2 has a double-lined 10 watermark. There were 300,000 of the 5 centavo and 200,160 of the 10 centavo issued.
It had long been thought that the original design of these stamps was produced within the printing firm of Perkins Bacon & Co. However, a portrait of Christopher Columbus by Italian artist Alejandro Cicarelli was discovered in the vaults of Santiago’s National History Museum in 1988. This portrait, painted circa 1850, portrays a likeness very similar to that appearing on the Chilean stamp. It is now theorized that the stamps were designed in Chile itself, based on the Cicarelli portrait. This portrait, with modifications in size, frame and other design elements would remain the sole image used on Chilean stamps until 1903.
Stamps of Britain were used in 1865-81 at Valparaiso (cancelled with C30), Caldera (C37) and Coquimbo (C40).
Chile released its first rouletted stamps on September 14, 1877 bearing a new design surrounding the familiar Cicarelli-based portrait of Christopher Columbus. Rouletting is a form of stamp separation that is closer to die cutting than perforation. Paper is not really moved from the sheet as happens when perforation holes are created. Instead, small slits are made between each stamp at regular intervals, with even smaller sections of unslit paper remaining. The stamps can be separated from one another by tearing along the slits, through the unslit areas. Small remnants of the torn unslit paper along the edge make it possible to measure this type of separation. Varieties, often described by philatelists in French terms, include straight cuts (percée en lignes, and percée en lignes colorées with inked cutting bar), arc (percée en arc), sawtooth and the serpentine roulettes (percée en pointe) used by the early stamps of Finland.
The 1877 Chilean rouletted issue was printed by the American Bank Note Company and consisted of five values — 1 centavo gray (Scott #20), 2 centavo orange (Scott #21), 5 centavo dull lake (Scott #22), 10 centavo blue (Scott #23), and 20 centavo green (Scott #24). The Scott catalogue doesn’t list any shade varieties for this issue. Bisects (cut in half diagonally) of the 10 centavo value used as 5 centavos postage are known on cover.
Toward the end of the nineteenth century, the government in Santiago consolidated its position in the south by the Occupation of Araucanía. The Boundary treaty of 1881 between Chile and Argentina confirmed Chilean sovereignty over the Strait of Magellan. As a result of the War of the Pacific with Peru and Bolivia (1879–83), Chile expanded its territory northward by almost one-third, eliminating Bolivia’s access to the Pacific, and acquired valuable nitrate deposits, the exploitation of which led to an era of national affluence.
During the War of the Pacific, revenue stamps were authorized for postal use: 5 centavos from July 3, 1880 until January 15, 1881; 1 centavos and 2 centavos from November 27, 1880 until August 8, 1881.
The 1891, the Chilean Civil War brought about a redistribution of power between the President and Congress, and Chile established a parliamentary style democracy. However, the Civil War had also been a contest between those who favored the development of local industries and powerful Chilean banking interests, particularly the House of Edwards who had strong ties to foreign investors. During this revolution, northern post offices were cut off from Santiago so revenue and telegraph stamps were used for postage from April 21, 1891 until exhausted; thereafter (July 10 until September 5, 1891) internal mail was allowed to go free. Soon after, the country engaged in a vastly expensive naval arms race with Argentina that nearly led to a war.
The Chilean economy partially degenerated into a system protecting the interests of a ruling oligarchy. By the 1920’s, the emerging middle and working classes were powerful enough to elect a reformist president, Arturo Alessandri, whose program was frustrated by a conservative congress. In the 1920’s, Marxist groups with strong popular support arose. A military coup led by General Luis Altamirano in 1924 set off a period of political instability that lasted until 1932. Of the ten governments that held power in that period, the longest lasting was that of General Carlos Ibáñez del Campo, who briefly held power in 1925 and then again between 1927 and 1931 in what was a de facto dictatorship.
By relinquishing power to a democratically elected successor, Ibáñez del Campo retained the respect of a large enough segment of the population to remain a viable politician for more than thirty years, in spite of the vague and shifting nature of his ideology. When constitutional rule was restored in 1932, a strong middle-class party, the Radicals, emerged. It became the key force in coalition governments for the next twenty years. During the period of Radical Party dominance (1932–1952), the state increased its role in the economy. In 1952, voters returned Ibáñez del Campo to office for another six years. Jorge Alessandri succeeded Ibáñez del Campo in 1958, bringing Chilean conservatism back into power democratically for another term.
The 1964 presidential election of Christian Democrat Eduardo Frei Montalva by an absolute majority initiated a period of major reform. Under the slogan “Revolution in Liberty”, the Frei administration embarked on far-reaching social and economic programs, particularly in education, housing, and agrarian reform, including rural unionization of agricultural workers. By 1967, however, Frei encountered increasing opposition from leftists, who charged that his reforms were inadequate, and from conservatives, who found them excessive.
In the 1970 election, Senator Salvador Allende of the Socialist Party of Chile (then part of the “Popular Unity” coalition which included the Communists, Radicals, Social-Democrats, dissident Christian Democrats, the Popular Unitary Action Movement, and the Independent Popular Action), achieved a partial majority in a plurality of votes in a three-way contest, followed by candidates Radomiro Tomic for the Christian Democrat Party and Jorge Alessandri for the Conservative Party. Allende was not elected with an absolute majority, receiving fewer than thirty-five percent of votes. The Chilean Congress conducted a runoff vote between the leading candidates, Allende and former president Jorge Alessandri and keeping with tradition, chose Allende by a vote of 153 to 35. Frei refused to form an alliance with Alessandri to oppose Allende, on the grounds that the Christian Democrats were a workers party and could not make common cause with the right-wing.
An economic depression that began in 1972 was exacerbated by capital flight, plummeting private investment, and withdrawal of bank deposits in response to Allende’s socialist program. Production fell and unemployment rose. Allende adopted measures including price freezes, wage increases, and tax reforms, to increase consumer spending and redistribute income downward. Joint public-private public works projects helped reduce unemployment. Much of the banking sector was nationalized. Many enterprises within the copper, coal, iron, nitrate, and steel industries were expropriated, nationalized, or subjected to state intervention. Industrial output increased sharply and unemployment fell during the Allende administration’s first year.
Allende’s program included advancement of workers’ interests, replacing the judicial system with “socialist legality”, nationalization of banks and forcing others to bankruptcy, and strengthening “popular militias” known as MIR. Started under former President Frei, the Popular Unity platform also called for nationalization of Chile’s major copper mines in the form of a constitutional amendment. The measure was passed unanimously by Congress. The United States government organized and inserted secret operatives in Chile, in order to destabilize Allende’s government. In addition, U.S. financial pressure restricted international economic credit to Chile.
The economic problems were exacerbated by Allende’s public spending which was financed mostly by printing money and poor credit ratings given by commercial banks. Simultaneously, opposition media, politicians, business guilds and other organizations helped to accelerate a campaign of domestic political and economical destabilization, some of which was backed by the United States. By early 1973, inflation was out of control. The crippled economy was further battered by prolonged and sometimes simultaneous strikes by physicians, teachers, students, truck owners, copper workers, and the small business class. On May 26, 1973, Chile’s Supreme Court, which was opposed to Allende’s government, unanimously denounced the Allende disruption of the legality of the nation.
A military coup overthrew Allende on September 11, 1973. As the armed forces bombarded the presidential palace, Allende apparently committed suicide. After the coup, Henry Kissinger told U.S. President Richard Nixon that the United States had “helped” the coup. A military junta, led by General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte, took control of the country. The first years of the regime were marked by human rights violations. In October 1973, at least 72 people were murdered by the Caravan of Death. According to the Rettig Report and Valech Commission, at least 2,115 were killed, and at least 27,265 were tortured (including 88 children younger than 12 years old). In 2011, Chile recognized an additional 9,800 victims, bringing the total number of killed, tortured or imprisoned for political reasons to 40,018. At the national stadium, filled with detainees, one of those tortured and killed was internationally known poet-singer Victor Jara. The stadium was renamed for Jara in 2003.
A new Constitution was approved by a controversial plebiscite on September 11, 1980, and General Pinochet became president of the republic for an eight-year term. After Pinochet obtained rule of the country, several hundred committed Chilean revolutionaries joined the Sandinista army in Nicaragua, guerrilla forces in Argentina or training camps in Cuba, Eastern Europe and Northern Africa.
In the late 1980s, largely as a result of events such as the 1982 economic collapse and mass civil resistance in 1983–1988, the government gradually permitted greater freedom of assembly, speech, and association, to include trade union and political activity. The government launched market-oriented reforms with Hernán Büchi as Minister of Finance. Chile moved toward a free market economy that saw an increase in domestic and foreign private investment, although the copper industry and other important mineral resources were not opened for competition.
In a plebiscite on October 5, 1988, Pinochet was denied a second eight-year term as president (56% against 44%). Chileans elected a new president and the majority of members of a two-chamber congress on December 14, 1989. Christian Democrat Patricio Aylwin, the candidate of a coalition of seventeen political parties called the Concertación, received an absolute majority of votes (55%). President Aylwin served from 1990 to 1994, in what was considered a transition period. In December 1993, Christian Democrat Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle, the son of previous president Eduardo Frei Montalva, led the Concertación coalition to victory with an absolute majority of votes (58%).
Frei Ruiz-Tagle was succeeded in 2000 by Socialist Ricardo Lagos, who won the presidency in an unprecedented runoff election against Joaquín Lavín of the rightist Alliance for Chile. In January 2006, Chileans elected their first female president, Michelle Bachelet Jeria, of the Socialist Party, defeating Sebastián Piñera, of the National Renewal party, extending the Concertación governance for another four years. In January 2010, Chileans elected Sebastián Piñera as the first rightist President in twenty years, defeating former President Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle of the Concertación, for a four-year term succeeding Bachelet. Due to term limits, Sebastián Piñera did not stand for re-election in 2013, and his term expired in March 2014 resulting in Michelle Bachelet returning to office.
On February 27, 2010, Chile was struck by an earthquake measuring 8.8 on the moment magnitude scale, the fifth largest ever recorded at the time. More than 500 people died (most from the ensuing tsunami) and over a million people lost their homes. The earthquake was also followed by multiple aftershocks. Initial damage estimates were in the range of U.S. $15–30 billion, around 10 to 15 percent of Chile’s real gross domestic product.
Chile achieved global recognition for the successful rescue of thirty-three trapped miners in 2010. On August 5, 2010, the access tunnel collapsed at the San José copper and gold mine in the Atacama Desert near Copiapó in northern Chile, trapping 33 men 2,300 feet (700 meters) below ground. A rescue effort organized by the Chilean government located the miners seventeen days later. All thirty-three men were brought to the surface two months later on October 13 over a period of almost 24 hours, an effort that was carried on live television around the world.
Chile is today one of South America’s most stable and prosperous nations. It leads Latin American nations in rankings of human development, competitiveness, income per capita, globalization, state of peace, economic freedom, and low perception of corruption. It also ranks high regionally in sustainability of the state, and democratic development. Chile is a founding member of the United Nations, the Union of South American Nations and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States.
Christopher Columbus never came near to the west coast of South America, yet Chile has many locations named after the explorer. Many of the countries earliest stamps were inscribed with COLON appearing as prominently as CHILE. However, many indigenous people in Latin America currently look upon October 12, 1492, as the day Columbus brought slavery, disease, colonization and genocide from Europe to the Americas. The Mapuche in Chile annually organize an anti-Columbus Day march, taking their distaste for the holiday and the European invasion to revolutionary levels.
The name Christopher Columbus is the Anglicization of the Latin Christophorus Columbus. His name in Italian is Cristoforo Colombo and, in Spanish, it is Cristóbal Colón. He was born before October 31, 1451, in the territory of the Republic of Genoa (now part of modern Italy), though the exact location remains disputed. His father was Domenico Colombo, a middle-class wool weaver who worked both in Genoa and Savona and who also owned a cheese stand at which young Christopher worked as a helper. His mother was Susanna Fontanarossa. Bartolomeo, Giovanni Pellegrino, and Giacomo were his brothers. Bartolomeo worked in a cartography workshop in Lisbon for at least part of his adulthood. He also had a sister named Bianchinetta.
Columbus never wrote in his native language, which is presumed to have been a Genoese variety of Ligurian (his name would translate in the sixteenth-century Genoese language as Christoffa Corombo). In one of his writings, he says he went to sea at the age of ten. In 1470, the Columbus family moved to Savona, where Domenico took over a tavern. In the same year, Christopher was on a Genoese ship hired in the service of René of Anjou to support his attempt to conquer the Kingdom of Naples.
In 1473, Columbus began his apprenticeship as business agent for the important Centurione, Di Negro and Spinola families of Genoa. Later, he allegedly made a trip to Chios, an Aegean island then ruled by Genoa. In May 1476, he took part in an armed convoy sent by Genoa to carry valuable cargo to northern Europe. He docked in Bristol, England, and Galway, Ireland. In 1477, he was possibly in Iceland. In the autumn of 1477, he sailed on a Portuguese ship from Galway to Lisbon, where he found his brother Bartolomeo, and they continued trading for the Centurione family. Columbus based himself in Lisbon from 1477 to 1485. He married Filipa Moniz Perestrelo, daughter of the Porto Santo governor and Portuguese nobleman of Lombard origin Bartolomeu Perestrello.
In 1479 or 1480, his son Diego Columbus was born. Between 1482 and 1485, Columbus traded along the coasts of West Africa, reaching the Portuguese trading post of Elmina at the Guinea coast.Some records report that Filipa died in 1485. It is also speculated that he may have simply left his first wife. In either case, he left Portugal for Castile in 1485, where he found a mistress in 1487, a 20-year-old orphan named Beatriz Enríquez de Arana.
Ambitious, Columbus eventually learned Latin, Portuguese, and Castilian. He read widely about astronomy, geography, and history, including the works of Claudius Ptolemy, Cardinal Pierre d’Ailly’s Imago Mundi, the travels of Marco Polo and Sir John Mandeville, Pliny’s Natural History, and Pope Pius II’s Historia Rerum Ubique Gestarum. According to historian Edmund Morgan,
“Columbus was not a scholarly man. Yet he studied these books, made hundreds of marginal notations in them and came out with ideas about the world that were characteristically simple and strong and sometimes wrong, …”
Throughout his life, Columbus also showed a keen interest in the Bible and in Biblical prophecies, often quoting biblical texts in his letters and logs. For example, part of the argument that he submitted to the Spanish Catholic Monarchs when he sought their support for his proposed expedition to reach the Indies by sailing west was based on his reading of the Second Book of Esdras which he took to mean that the Earth is made of six parts of land to one of water. Towards the end of his life, he produced a Book of Prophecies in which his career as an explorer is interpreted in the light of Christian eschatology and of apocalypticism.
From d’Ailly’s Imago Mundi Columbus learned of Alfraganus’s estimate that a degree of latitude (or a degree of longitude along the equator) spanned 56⅔ miles, but did not realize that this was expressed in the Arabic mile rather than the shorter Roman mile with which he was familiar (1,480 meters). He therefore estimated the circumference of the Earth to be about 30,200 kilometers, whereas the correct value is 40,000 kilometers (25,000 miles). Most scholars accepted Ptolemy’s estimate that Eurasia spanned 180° longitude, rather than the actual 130° (to the Chinese mainland) or 150° (to Japan at the latitude of Spain). Columbus, for his part, believed the even higher estimate of Marinus of Tyre, which put the longitudinal span of the Eurasian landmass at 225°, leaving only 135° of water. He also believed that Japan (which he called “Cipangu“, following Marco Polo) was much larger, farther to the east from China (“Cathay“), and closer to the equator than it is, and that there were inhabited islands even farther to the east than Japan, including the mythical Antillia, which he thought might lie not much farther to the west than the Azores. In this, he was influenced by the ideas of Florentine astronomer Toscanelli, who corresponded with Columbus before his death in 1482 and who also defended the feasibility of a westward route to Asia.
Columbus therefore estimated the distance from the Canary Islands to Japan to be about 3,000 Italian miles (3,700 km, or 2,300 statute miles). The true figure is now known to be vastly larger: about 20,000 km. No ship in the fifteenth century could have carried enough food and fresh water for such a long voyage, and the dangers involved in navigating through the uncharted ocean would have been formidable. Most European navigators reasonably concluded that a westward voyage from Europe to Asia was unfeasible. The Catholic Monarchs, however, having completed an expensive war in the Iberian Peninsula, were eager to obtain a competitive edge over other European countries in the quest for trade with the Indies. Columbus’s project, though far-fetched, held the promise of such an advantage.
Though Columbus was wrong about the number of degrees of longitude that separated Europe from the Far East and about the distance that each degree represented, he did possess valuable knowledge about the trade winds, which would prove to be the key to his successful navigation of the Atlantic Ocean. During his first voyage in 1492, the brisk trade winds from the east, commonly called “easterlies”, propelled Columbus’s fleet for five weeks, from the Canary Islands to The Bahamas. The precise first land sighting and landing point was San Salvador Island. To return to Spain against this prevailing wind would have required several months of an arduous sailing technique, called beating, during which food and drinkable water would probably have been exhausted.
Instead, Columbus returned home by following the curving trade winds northeastward to the middle latitudes of the North Atlantic, where he was able to catch the “westerlies” that blow eastward to the coast of Western Europe. There, in turn, the winds curve southward towards the Iberian Peninsula. It is unclear whether Columbus learned about the winds from his own sailing experience or if he had heard about them from others. The corresponding technique for efficient travel in the Atlantic appears to have been exploited first by the Portuguese, who referred to it as the Volta do mar (“turn of the sea”). Columbus’s knowledge of the Atlantic wind patterns was, however, imperfect at the time of his first voyage. By sailing directly due west from the Canary Islands during hurricane season, skirting the so-called horse latitudes of the mid-Atlantic, Columbus risked either being becalmed or running into a tropical cyclone, both of which, by chance, he avoided.
In 1485, Columbus presented his plans to King John II of Portugal. He proposed that the king equip three sturdy ships and grant Columbus one year’s time to sail out into the Atlantic, search for a western route to the Orient, and return. Columbus also requested he be made “Great Admiral of the Ocean”, appointed governor of any and all lands he discovered, and given one-tenth of all revenue from those lands. The king submitted Columbus’s proposal to his experts, who rejected it. It was their considered opinion that Columbus’s estimation of a travel distance of 2,400 miles (3,860 km) was, in fact, far too low.
In 1488, Columbus appealed to the court of Portugal once again and, once again, John II invited him to an audience. That meeting also proved unsuccessful, in part because not long afterwards Bartolomeu Dias returned to Portugal with news of his successful rounding of the southern tip of Africa (near the Cape of Good Hope). With an eastern sea route to Asia apparently at hand, King John was no longer interested in Columbus’s far-fetched project.
Columbus traveled from Portugal to both Genoa and Venice, but he received encouragement from neither. He had also dispatched his brother Bartolomé to the court of Henry VII of England to inquire whether the English crown might sponsor his expedition, but also without success.
Columbus sought an audience from the monarchs Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile, who had united several kingdoms in the Iberian Peninsula by marrying and were ruling together. On May 1, 1486, permission having been granted, Columbus presented his plans to Queen Isabella, who, in turn, referred it to a committee. After the passing of much time, the savants of Spain, like their counterparts in Portugal, replied that Columbus had grossly underestimated the distance to Asia. They pronounced the idea impractical and advised their Royal Highnesses to pass on the proposed venture.
However, to keep Columbus from taking his ideas elsewhere, and perhaps to keep their options open, the Catholic Monarchs gave him an annual allowance of 12,000 maravedis and, in 1489, furnished him with a letter ordering all cities and towns under their domain to provide him food and lodging at no cost.
After continually lobbying at the Spanish court and two years of negotiations, he finally had success in January 1492. Ferdinand and Isabella had just conquered Granada, the last Muslim stronghold on the Iberian Peninsula, and they received Columbus in Córdoba, in the Alcázar castle. Isabella turned him down on the advice of her confessor. Columbus was leaving town by mule in despair when Ferdinand intervened. Isabella then sent a royal guard to fetch him, and Ferdinand later claimed credit for being “the principal cause why those islands were discovered”.
In the April 1492 Capitulations of Santa Fe, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella promised Columbus that if he succeeded he would be given the rank of Admiral of the Ocean Sea and appointed Viceroy and Governor of all the new lands he could claim for Spain. He had the right to nominate three persons, from whom the sovereigns would choose one, for any office in the new lands. He would be entitled to ten percent of all the revenues from the new lands in perpetuity. Additionally, he would also have the option of buying one-eighth interest in any commercial venture with the new lands and receive one-eighth of the profits.
Between 1492 and 1503, Columbus completed four round-trip voyages between Spain and the Americas, all of them under the sponsorship of the Crown of Castile. These voyages marked the beginning of the European exploration and colonization of the American continents, and are thus of enormous significance in Western history.
Columbus always insisted, in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary, that the lands that he visited during those voyages were part of the Asian continent, as previously described by Marco Polo and other European travelers. Columbus’s refusal to accept that the lands he had visited and claimed for Spain were not part of Asia might explain, in part, why the American continent was named after the Florentine explorer Amerigo Vespucci and not after Columbus.
Following his first voyage, Columbus was appointed Viceroy and Governor of the Indies under the terms of the Capitulations of Santa Fe. In practice, this primarily entailed the administration of the colonies in the island of Hispaniola, whose capital was established in Santo Domingo. By the end of his third voyage, Columbus was physically and mentally exhausted, his body wracked by arthritis and his eyes by ophthalmia. In October 1499, he sent two ships to Spain, asking the Court of Spain to appoint a royal commissioner to help him govern.
By this time, accusations of tyranny and incompetence on the part of Columbus had also reached the Court. Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand responded by removing Columbus from power and replacing him with Francisco de Bobadilla, a member of the Order of Calatrava. Bobadilla, who ruled as governor from 1500 until his death in a storm in 1502, had also been tasked by the Court with investigating the accusations of brutality made against Columbus. Arriving in Santo Domingo while Columbus was away in the explorations of his third voyage, Bobadilla was immediately met with complaints about all three Columbus brothers: Christopher, Bartolomeo, and Diego. A recently discovered report by Bobadilla alleges that Columbus regularly used torture and mutilation to govern Hispaniola. The 48-page report, found in 2006 in the state archive in the Spanish city of Valladolid, contains testimonies from twenty-three people, including both enemies and supporters of Columbus, about the treatment of colonial subjects by Columbus and his brothers during his seven-year rule.
Because of their gross mismanagement of governance, Columbus and his brothers were arrested and imprisoned upon their return to Spain from the third voyage in 1500. They lingered in jail for six weeks before busy King Ferdinand ordered their release. Not long after, the king and queen summoned the Columbus brothers to the Alhambra palace in Granada. There the royal couple heard the brothers’ pleas; restored their freedom and wealth; and, after much persuasion, agreed to fund Columbus’s fourth voyage. But the door was firmly shut on Columbus’s role as governor. Henceforth Nicolás de Ovando y Cáceres was to be the new governor of the West Indies.
Columbus had always claimed the conversion of non-believers as one reason for his explorations, but he grew increasingly religious in his later years. Probably with the assistance of his son Diego and his friend the Carthusian monk Gaspar Gorricio, Columbus produced two books during his later years: a Book of Privileges (1502), detailing and documenting the rewards from the Spanish Crown to which he believed he and his heirs were entitled, and a Book of Prophecies (1505), in which he considered his achievements as an explorer but a fulfillment of Bible prophecy in the context of Christian eschatology.
In his later years, Columbus demanded that the Spanish Crown give him 10 percent of all profits made in the new lands, as stipulated in the Capitulations of Santa Fe. Because he had been relieved of his duties as governor, the crown did not feel bound by that contract and his demands were rejected. After his death, his heirs sued the Crown for a part of the profits from trade with America, as well as other rewards. This led to a protracted series of legal disputes known as the pleitos colombinos (“Columbian lawsuits”).
During a violent storm on his first return voyage, Columbus, then approximately forty-one years old, suffered an attack of what was believed at the time to be gout. In subsequent years, he was plagued with what was thought to be influenza and other fevers, bleeding from the eyes, and prolonged attacks of gout. The suspected attacks increased in duration and severity, sometimes leaving Columbus bedridden for months at a time, and culminated in his death fourteen years later. Based on Columbus’s lifestyle and the described symptoms, modern doctors suspect that he suffered from Reiter’s syndrome, rather than gout. Reiter’s syndrome is a common presentation of reactive arthritis, a joint inflammation caused by intestinal bacterial infections or after acquiring certain sexually transmitted diseases (primarily chlamydia or gonorrhea).
On May 20, 1506, aged probably 54, Columbus died in Valladolid, Spain. His remains were first interred at Valladolid, then at the monastery of La Cartuja in Seville (southern Spain) by the will of his son Diego Colón, who had been governor of Hispaniola. In 1542, the remains were transferred to Colonial Santo Domingo, in the present-day Dominican Republic. In 1795, when France took over the entire island of Hispaniola, Columbus’s remains were moved to Havana, Cuba. After Cuba became independent following the Spanish–American War in 1898, the remains were moved back to Spain, to the Cathedral of Seville, where they were placed on an elaborate catafalque.
However, a lead box bearing an inscription identifying “Don Christopher Columbus” and containing bone fragments and a bullet was discovered at Santo Domingo in 1877. To lay to rest claims that the wrong relics had been moved to Havana and that Columbus’s remains had been left buried in the cathedral at Santo Domingo, DNA samples of the corpse resting in Seville were taken in June 2003 as well as other DNA samples from the remains of his brother Diego and younger son Fernando Colón. Initial observations suggested that the bones did not appear to belong to somebody with the physique or age at death associated with Columbus. DNA extraction proved difficult; only short fragments of mitochondrial DNA could be isolated. The mtDNA fragments matched corresponding DNA from Columbus’s brother, giving support that both individuals had shared the same mother.
Such evidence, together with anthropologic and historic analyses, led the researchers to conclude that the remains found in Seville belonged to Christopher Columbus. The authorities in Santo Domingo have never allowed the remains there to be exhumed, so it is unknown if any of those remains could be from Columbus’s body as well. The Dominican remains are located in “The Columbus Lighthouse” (Faro a Colón), in Santo Domingo.
Although Christopher Columbus came to be considered the “discoverer of America” in United States and European popular culture, his true historical legacy is more nuanced. America was first discovered by its indigenous population, and Columbus was not even the first European to reach its shores as he was preceded by the Vikings at L’Anse aux Meadows. But the lasting significance of Columbus’s voyages outshone that of his Viking predecessors, because he managed to bring word of the continent back to Europe. By bringing the continent to the forefront of Western attention, Columbus initiated the enduring relationship between the Earth’s two major landmasses and their inhabitants. “Columbus’s claim to fame isn’t that he got there first,” explains historian Martin Dugard, “it’s that he stayed.”
The term “pre-Columbian” is usually used to refer to the peoples and cultures of the Americas before the arrival of Columbus and his European successors.
The scholar Amerigo Vespucci, who sailed to America in the years following Columbus’s first voyage, was the first to speculate that the land was not part of Asia but in fact constituted some wholly new continent previously unknown to Eurasians. His travel journals, published 1502–1504, convinced German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller to reach the same conclusion, and in 1507— a year after Columbus’s death — Waldseemüller published a world map calling the new continent America from Vespucci’s Latinized name “Americus”.
Historically, the British had downplayed Columbus and emphasized the role of the Venetian John Cabot as a pioneer explorer, but for the emerging United States, Cabot made for a poor national hero. Veneration of Columbus in America dates back to colonial times. The name Columbia for “America” first appeared in a 1738 weekly publication of the debates of the British Parliament. The use of Columbus as a founding figure of New World nations and the use of the word “Columbia”, or simply the name “Columbus”, spread rapidly after the American Revolution.
Columbus’s name was given to the federal capital of the United States (District of Columbia), the capital cities of two U.S. states (Ohio and South Carolina), and the Columbia River. Outside the United States the name was used in 1819 for the Gran Colombia, a precursor of the modern Republic of Colombia. Numerous cities, towns, counties, streets, and plazas (called Plaza Colón or Plaza de Colón throughout Latin America and Spain) have been named after him. A candidate for sainthood in the Catholic Church in 1866, celebration of Columbus’s legacy perhaps reached a zenith in 1892 with the 400th anniversary of his first arrival in the Americas. Monuments to Columbus like the Columbian Exposition in Chicago and Columbus Circle in New York City were erected throughout the United States and Latin America extolling him.
In 1909, descendants of Columbus undertook to dismantle the Columbus family chapel in Spain and move it to Boalsburg near State College, Pennsylvania, where it may now be visited by the public. At the museum associated with the chapel, there are a number of Columbus relics worthy of note, including the armchair that the “Admiral of the Ocean Sea” used at his chart table.
Another consequence of Columbus’s exploration was that he was one of the first Europeans to encounter chili peppers. He called them “peppers” because they, like black and white pepper of the Piper genus known in Europe, have a spicy hot taste unlike other foodstuffs. Diego Álvarez Chanca, a physician on Columbus’ second voyage to the West Indies in 1493, brought the first chili peppers to Spain and first wrote about their medicinal effects in 1494. Upon their introduction into Europe, chilies were grown as botanical curiosities in the gardens of Spanish and Portuguese monasteries. Christian monks experimented with the culinary potential of chili and discovered that their pungency offered a substitute for black peppercorns, which at the time were so costly that they were used as legal currency in some countries.
The spread of chili peppers to Asia was most likely a natural consequence of its introduction to Portuguese traders (Lisbon was a common port of call for Spanish ships sailing to and from the Americas) who, aware of its trade value, would have likely promoted its commerce in the Asian spice trade routes then dominated by Portuguese and Arab traders. It was introduced in India by the Portuguese towards the end of fifteenth century. Today, chilies are an integral part of South Asian and Southeast Asian cuisines.