The Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortes conquered the Aztec empire in what is now Mexico. He was appointed as the first governor of New Spain and established Mexico City on the site of Tenochtitlan, the former capital of the Aztecs. Later in life, he hoped to find a strait linking the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, but instead he discovered the peninsula of Baja California and explored Mexico's Pacific coast.
Cortes first left Spain for the New World in 1504 and settled in Hispaniola. He participated in the conquest of Cuba in 1511 and became the mayor of Santiago. In 1518, Diego Velazquez, the governor of Cuba, appointed Cortes to lead an expedition to conquer Mexico. Cortes and his men reached the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan in August 1519, where he took the Aztec ruler Montezuma hostage.
The Spanish forces were initially driven from the city after an Aztec revolt. They returned in 1521 to lay siege to Tenochtitlan and destroyed the city after several months. Cortes became the governor of New Spain in Mexico but was forced to return to Spain in 1528. He returned to Mexico in 1530, his authority diminished. In 1536, he began further explorations and discovered Baja California. He returned to Spain in 1541 and died six years later.