At the beginning of the 15th century, Europeans knew very little about the world. They still believed it was flat and that the horizon was a straight line marking the edge of the world.
The existence of India, China and Japan was shown by Marco Polo`s journeys and the trade routes that brought silk and spices to Europe. However, not very much was known about these lands.

Marco Polo
Marco Polo

In the Middle Ages, Europeans divided the world into Christian and Muslim countries. Since most Europeans were Christians, they called Europe “Christendom”. The Muslim Empire stretched from Spain to India. They were great traders. Their ships sailed across the Indian Ocean and the China Sea. For centuries there had been constant wars between the Christians and the Muslims. This made it difficult for Europeans to travel in Muslim countries.
As they couldn’t trade with Asia, Europeans decided to explore the world and find new routes. They were afraid to go exploring because they believed that the earth was flat and they feared that if they sailed out too far from the coast they might fall off the edge of the world. They were afraid to go south because they believed that the sea got hotter and hotter until it boiled. They were afraid of sea monsters, which they believed could swallow a ship whole.

1.- Reasons to explore:

In the 15th century, European countries launched many maritime expeditions. There were different reasons for this:

a. The need to find new trade routes to the East

Because the conquest of Constantinople by the Turks interrupted the trade routes between Europe and Asia, trade was the main reason for exploration. At that time Europeans grew their own food and made their own clothes. But rich people wanted luxury items that could not be found in Europe, for example, spices like pepper, cloves, ginger which were used to preserve and flavour foods and to make medicines; or silk, which wealthy people love to wear (it came from China); or jewels, like emeralds and rubies that came from India.
Muslim traders brought these goods to the Mediterranean. They travelled on camels across the desert or on small boats across the Indian Ocean. Qhen they reached the Mediterranean ports, they sold the goods to Italian merchants, who then sold them to the rest of Europe. But wars between Christians and Muslims could stop trade. The conquest of Constantinople pushed up the price. European monarchs began to wonder if there was another way to reach the Spice Islands.

b. Spreading Christianity

Many Christian rulers felt it was their duty to convert all peoples to Christianity so they should take over non-Christian parts of the world.

c. Conquering new lands

As authoritarian monarchs strengthened, they wanted to become more powerful by conquering new territories. The growing population of Europe also meant that there was a demand for new land.

Expeditions were possible thanks to a number of technical advances and improvements in ships that made it possible to go further:

New maps called portulan charts that showed the coastline and any obstacles at sea.

Navigational instrumentssuch as the compass, the astrolabe and the quadrant.

New ships as caravels that could travel longer distances, were faster and easier to manoeuvre.