1295-1296: Marco Polo returns to Europe after spending 24 years in China.
1415: Portuguese explorers capture the Moroccan city of Ceuta, marking the beginning of the Portuguese exploration of Africa.
1492: Christopher Columbus, funded by the Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella, sets sail on his first voyage to find a western route to Asia. He lands in the Caribbean islands, which he calls the “New World.”
1497-1499: Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama sails to India, opening up a direct sea route to Asia from Europe.
1498-1500: Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci makes voyages to South America, realizing that it is not part of Asia but a new continent.
1513: Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León lands on the eastern coast of Florida, becoming the first European to set foot on the mainland of North America.
1519-1522: Ferdinand Magellan, sailing for Spain, leads the first circumnavigation of the world, although he himself dies in the Philippines.
1577-1580: English explorer Sir Francis Drake circumnavigates the globe, becoming the first Englishman to do so.
1602: Dutch East India Company is founded, becoming the first multinational corporation in the world.
1607: English settlers establish Jamestown, Virginia, the first permanent English settlement in North America.
1620: Pilgrims from England arrive at Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts, establishing a new colony.
1642-1645: Dutch explorer Abel Tasman explores Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific Islands.
1768-1771: British explorer James Cook sets out on his first voyage to the Pacific, mapping New Zealand and eastern Australia and claiming them for Britain.
1788: The First Fleet, carrying British convicts, arrives in Sydney Cove, Australia, establishing the first permanent European settlement in the continent.
Late 19th century: European countries begin a new era of colonization and imperialism, dividing up much of Africa and Asia among themselves.
20th century: Decolonization occurs, leading to the formation of many new nations around the world.