The Known World in 1490


Map Code: Ax02281

Europeans had travelled overland as far as China in search of wealth and trade. The 13th-century journey of the Venetian Marco Polo, who had travelled through along the ancient Silk Road, through Central Asia to China, where he had spent many years at the court of the Mongol Emperor Kublai Khan was well known to Europeans. However, Africa – apart from the coastal regions – was largely unknown. Maritime exploration was much less advanced than overland travel. In the early 15th century the voyages of the Portuguese Prince Henry the Navigator had explored the southern Atlantic Ocean and African coast and opened up trade routes. While it was known that great wealth lay to the east, attempts to reach Asia via the Cape of Good Hope were frustrated by the distances and difficulties involved. Christopher Columbus, the son of a Genoese wool merchant was a navigator and explorer who approached the Portuguese court twice in 1485 and 1488 with a proposal to sail westward in search of Asia. Rebuffed by the Portuguese he turned instead to the court of Isabella and Ferdinand in Spain. Eager to out-do their Portuguese rivals, they eventually agreed to support his voyage in 1492. In 1490, however, America was effectively uncharted territory to European explorers. Viking explorers, travelling west from Greenland, had reached the coast of Newfoundland in the 10th century, but their early explorations were relegated to Norse sagas.

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