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The symbolic geography that Columbus addressed was that a western route around the world as a way to access the riches of the Far East took a lot longer than an eastern passage overland or a sea route around the Cape of Good Hope. Even though there are myths regarding the nature of his journey (sailors were well aware that the Earth was round, and they had been since Ancient Greece), few realized that a gigantic landmass stood in the way and the subsequent failure to find a Northwestern Passage to the Far East in the centuries ahead confirmed that it was a route that indeed took much longer.
Even though Columbus died believing that he had landed in islands near the Far East, his "discovery" of a new series of continents spurred further exploration by a variety of counties, both as a way to emerge on the world stage (Portugal and Holland) and a way to address the European and Muslim monopolies on the established trade routes. Though one can dispute whether the American landmass was ultimately worth the exploration efforts when it comes to benefits versus cost, it made sense to many, especially after the Islamic empires of the Middle East and Central Asia closed off their borders to the Far East following the devastation of the Mongol conquests.
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