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By the end of the 15th century many things were changing in Europe. The population started to grow more quickly and a new class of merchants emerged. They wanted to buy and sell expensive and valuable products from Asia—like gold, jewels and silk. In those days, people had no refrigerators to preserve their food. They dried meat and often used salt to make it last longer. To make food taste better they used spices, like pepper or cinnamon. For centuries Europeans brought these goods on a land route from Asia over thousands of dangerous kilometres. In the 15th century the overland routes were being controlled by the Turkish Empire, which made it even more difficult for European merchants to pass through. As a result, some European countries, like Spain and Portugal, decided to find out if there was a sea route to India. With the help of new kinds of ships that could sail faster and instruments, like the quadrant, they started the Age of Exploration. Vasco da Gama's route around AfricaAt the end of the 15th century the Portuguese started to explore the west coast of Africa. They set up trading posts and collected gold and silver. They were convinced that by sailing around the coast of Africa they would find a route to India. In 1487, the Portuguese explorer Bartholomeu Dias sailed around the southern part of the continent and got as far as the east coast of Africa, but a storm made him turn back. On his return voyage, he saw a piece of land that stretched out into the sea. The Portuguese named it the Cape of Good Hope because they were hopeful of finding a passageway to India. In 1497 Vasco Da Gama set out from Lisbon, sailed around the Cape of Good Hope and into the Indian Ocean. He reached the west coast of India in May 1498. He took some spices and gold back with him to prove that he had reached India. Christopher Columbus was probably the most famous explorer of the era. He achieved fame by sailing west in search of a sea route to India. Instead of reaching India he discovered that there was an unknown mass of land in between, land that the Europeans knew nothing of. Columbus was born in Genoa, Italy in 1451 and during his early years his father took him on various sailing trips and wanted to make a merchant out of him. Like many navigators of that time, Columbus also wanted to sail to India and the Far East. He thought that if he sailed west he would also reach the Spice Islands of Asia and India. When he went to the king of Portugal to present his plan, but it was rejected. Queen Isabella of Spain admired young and brave men like Columbus and so she gave him three ships—the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria—and a crew of 90 men. Columbus left Spain on August 3, 1492. After two months of sailing westward, he landed on an island of the Bahamas, San Salvador, on October 12, 1492. Because he thought he had reached the islands near India he called the natives Indians. All together, Columbus made four voyages to the New World between 1492 and 1504. He explored the coasts of Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola, and Puerto Rico. On his last two voyages, Columbus reached the mainland of Central and South America and travelled as far south as the mouth of the Orinoco River. After he came home from his fourth voyage, Christopher Columbus fell ill and died in 1506.
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