The Age of Discovery, also known as the Age of Exploration, was a period in history starting in the early 15th century and continuing into the early 17th century during which Europeans engaged in intensive exploration of the world, establishing direct contacts with Africa, the Americas, Asia and Oceania and mapping the planet. Historians often refer to the 'Age of Discovery' as the pioneer Portuguese and Spanish long-distance maritime travels in search of alternative trade routes to "the Indies", moved by the trade of gold, silver and spices.
The Portuguese began systematically exploring the Atlantic coast of Africa from 1418, under the sponsorship of Prince Henry, reaching the Indian Ocean by this route in 1488. In 1492, racing to find a trade route to Asia, the Spanish monarchs funded Christopher Columbus’s plan to sail west to reach the Indies by crossing the Atlantic. He landed on an uncharted continent, then seen by Europeans as a new world, America. To prevent conflict between Portugal and Spain, a treaty was signed dividing the world into two regions of exploration, where each had exclusive rights to claim newly discovered lands. In 1498, a Portuguese expedition commanded by Vasco da Gama finally achieved the dream of reaching India by sailing around Africa, opening up direct trade with Asia. Soon, the Portuguese sailed further eastward, to the valuable spice islands in 1512, landing in China one year later. East and west exploration overlapped in 1522, when Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan led a Spanish expedition West, achieving the first circumnavigation of the world, while Spanish conquistadors explored inland the Americas, and later, some of the South Pacific islands. In 1495, the French and English and, much later, the Dutch entered the race of exploration after learning of these exploits, defying the Iberian monopoly on maritime trade by searching for new routes, first to the north, and into the Pacific Ocean around South America, but eventually by following the Portuguese around Africa into the Indian Ocean; discovering Australia in 1606, New Zealand in 1642, and Hawaii in 1778. Meanwhile, from the 1580s to the 1640s Russians explored and conquered almost the whole of Siberia.
The Age of Discovery is seen as a bridge between the Middle Ages and the Modern era, along with its contemporary Renaissance movement, triggering the early modern period and the rise of European nation-states. Accounts from distant lands and maps spread with the help of the new printing press fed the rise of humanism and worldly curiosity, ushering in a new age of scientific and intellectual inquiry. European overseas expansion led to the rise of colonial empires, with the contact between the Old and New Worlds producing the Columbian Exchange: a wide transfer of plants, animals, foods, human populations (including slaves), communicable diseases, and culture between the Eastern and Western hemispheres, in one of the most significant global events concerning ecology, agriculture, and culture in history. European exploration spanned until accomplishing the global mapping of the world, resulting in a new world-view and distant civilizations acknowledging each other, reaching the most remote boundaries much later.