The root of Spanish discovery and exploration was the result of the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453. After the fall of Constantinople, "several nations began to develop fleets of trading ships to challenge the Muslim-Italian trade monopoly" by finding a more successful trade route to the Far East. This quest became known as the Age of Exploration.
The Age of Exploration "fueled an economic, technological, political, and cultural rebirth across Europe, further contributing to the forces that brought about the Renaissance." This time proved to be a pivotal time in the history of the world.
With fear and suspicion that the Portuguese would find a more direct trading route to the East, Spain became involved in the race to discovery. Some of the most important explorers and conquistadors of this time included Christopher Columbus, Hernan Cortes, and Francisco Pizarro to name a few.
"The importance of the Age of Exploration on later history is difficult to over-emphasize. The shift of trade moved out of the Mediterranean and into the Atlantic. The Mediterranean became just a lake. The riches of the world moved first to the Iberian Peninsula and then to northern Europe, and with those riches came political and military power."
(History of Creativity, 465,467,479)
After a few failed attempts to present his so called "quicker route to the Far East by sailing west", Christopher Columbus, an Italian sailor, approached King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain with his "relatively shorter route to India." This idea intrigued the Spanish monarchs. After a bit of hesitation, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella summoned Columbus to court and told him to prepare for his voyage.
On August 3, 1492, Columbus and his crew completed their preparations and set sail aboard his three ships - the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria. This was the first of four voyages that Columbus would make during his lifetime. On October 12, 1492, Columbus and crew sighted land and eventually named this island San Salvador (an island reached in the Bahamas). Additional territories that Columbus and his crew claimed included Hispaniola (modern Haiti and the Dominican Republic), La Natividad and La Isabela. Columbus died on May 20, 1506, never realizing that he had not gone to Asia.
(History of Creativiy, 471-472)
Hernan Cortes, born in the province of Extremadura, was nearly the "stereotypical conquistador." After a failed attempt to attend the Univeristy of Salamanca, Cortes was determined to make a reputation and fortune for himself by going to the New World.
While sailing towards the Indies, Cortes settled in Cuba where he became known as a well known soldier. After capturing a native slave named La Malinche (who later became his lover and interpreter) Cortes learned about the great Aztec Empire. In the spring of 1519, Cortes led an expedition of roughly 500 Spanish soldiers with the intent of gaining riches and removing Montezuma from power.
After a very difficult expedition Cortes and his soldiers were spotted by messengers of Montezuma who sped back to Mexico City with "word that the gods had come back with lances that spit fire, and with warriors with two heads and six legs, and that they lived in houses that floated." Once Cortes and his soldiers had been welcomed to the city, they took Montezuma hostage and "began to loot the city's treasures. Just like that, Cortes conquered the Aztec Empire.
(History of Creativiy, 475-476)
Francisco Pizarro was born in Trujillo, Spain in 1476. In 1513 Pizarro joined Vasco de Balboa in his trek towards the "South Sea" where they discovered the Pacific Ocean. In 1532, Pizarro and his brothers conquered Peru and founded its new capital of Lima.
Information gathered from biography.com