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Sept. 6, 1492: Columbus leaves Canary Islands on first New World voyage


When Christopher Columbus set sail across the Atlantic seeking an oversea route to China and India, he wasn’t sure what he would encounter. He did know one thing: that his first stop would be the Canary Islands.

Columbus knew he could use the islands (then ruled by the Kingdom of Castile, now part of Spain) as a supply base before favorable winds propelled him westward. Columbus didn’t find what he expected, but he did set a precedent, and European explorers continued using the Canary Islands as a launching pad.

These days, the islands’ sandy beaches, warm weather and laid-back nightlife lure millions of tourists every year. Its volcanic mountains draw adventurers and astronomers (Tenerife Island’s Mt. Teide, the tallest peak in all of Spain, is home to Teide Observatory and Spain’s largest national park).

The explorers’ money made the islands wealthy, as reflected in beautiful architecture. The photo above is of a traditional building where Columbus supposedly stayed in the capital city of Las Palmas, on the island of Gran Canaria. The well-preserved streetscapes of Tenerife’s San Cristóbal de La Laguna gained UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 1999. Visitors can climb the Iglesia de la Concepción bell tower, built in the 17th and 18th centuries, for a view across the Old Town.


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