Was Christopher Columbus Italian? (or Spanish? or Portuguese?)

was christopher columbus italian

Christopher Columbus: the man who crossed the Atlantic ocean to reach Asia and discovered the “New World”.

While there’s plenty of information about his adventurous expeditions to sail the Atlantic, there’s still some confusion about his origins.

Today, we will answer a never-ending question: was Christopher Columbus Italian?

Where was Christopher Columbus from?

Why there’s so much controversy about where Cristopher Columbus was from?

The biography of the explorer who paved the way to the “New World” is confused and sometimes vague, and the fact that Columbus traveled and lived in different European countries hasn’t helped historians so far.

Due to his unconventional and quite adventurous life, it is hard to determine Columbus’ origins; however, there are several theories about it.

Probably, we will never get to know the correct one. But let’s break them down in this post and try to figure out if Christopher Columbus was born in Italy or somewhere else.

Christopher Columbus: some biographical facts

Many historians agree that Christopher Columbus was born in Genoa in 1451 to Domenico Colombo and Susanna Fontanarossa.

At the time, Genoa was an independent Republic in Northwestern Italy, with lots of connections to foreign cities due to its trading activities.

Columbus started to sail at a very young age and took part in several trading voyages. In 1476, pirates attacked the ship on which he was working.

After the attack, Columbus was able to float to the Portuguese shore and made his way to Lisbon.

He spent many years of his life in Portugal and married a Portuguese noblewoman, so he became a Portuguese citizen.

While in Portugal, Columbus started thinking about the project that eventually would mark the beginning of a new era. His idea was to reach the East through a different route.

It was mainly a political and commercial voyage: at the time, Eastern routes were inaccessible because hostile armies had blocked them.

At the time, explorers used to sail around the Cape of Good Hope along the African coast. Columbus had a different idea: he wanted to reach Asia by crossing the Atlantic ocean instead of heading south.

He presented his plan to the Portuguese and English monarchs, but nobody agreed to fund the journey. Then, Columbus went to Spain to seek patronage from the Spanish royalties.

After denying twice, King Ferdinand of Spain and his wife Queen Isabella eventually accepted.

Was Christopher Columbus Italian?

Columbus’s biography is crucial to understand why there are so many controversies about his homeland – in fact, he lived in different countries, traveled to several lands, and spoke various languages.

A large part of historians agrees with the theory that Columbus was born in Genoa and left at a very young age to work on trading ships.

At the time, Genoa was an independent city-state in north-western Italy and based its economy mainly on maritime trade.

The city had a lot of connections to other naval towns, so it was easy for the young Columbus to learn foreign languages and take part in trading voyages.

Several written documents – including some notarial acts – support the hypothesis that Christopher Columbus was born in Genoa, in today’s north-western Italy. In these writings, Columbus claims that he was born in the city of Genoa.

Although some scholars question the document’s authenticity, the vast majority of historians agree that such documents are genuine.

If so, we can then state that Columbus was born in Genoa and probably left his homeland at a very young age.

Today, Genoa is an Italian city, but at the time, Italy didn’t exist as we know it today – it was just a bunch of republics and city-states.

So, if we want to be accurate, we should state that Christopher Columbus was Genoese.

However, some people claim that Columbus was not Italian but instead had different origins. Let’s discuss other theories about Christopher Columbus’ birthplace.

Was Columbus from Spain?

Many people assert that Christopher Columbus was from Spain. In fact, he was fluent in the Castilian language, used to sign in Spanish, and even used the Spanish version of his name (Cristóbal Colón).

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Most of Columbus’ written production we have today is in Castilian, and this is one of the main reasons that led people to believe he was born in Spain – together with the fact that he spent a large part of his life serving the Spanish monarchs.

However, we can’t be totally sure that Christopher Columbus was Spanish just because of these facts. Perhaps, he had a strong tie with Spain because he spent most of his life serving the Spanish kings.

After all, in Spain, he found support and financial aid for his journey across the Atlantic ocean, and he worked mainly for the Spanish crown. At the time, offering your services to a king was most relevant to the place you were born.

Or was he Portuguese?

Other theories suggest that Christoper Columbus was Portuguese. As he spent many years in Portugal and had several ties with the Portuguese crown, some historians hypothesize that Columbus had Portuguese origins.

Some evidence they use to support this hypothesis is that he married a Portuguese noblewoman, and perhaps it would have been unlikely if he had been a stranger.

Additionally, others say that Christopher Columbus was the illegitimate son of a Portuguese noble and changed his name to “Culon” after surviving a naval battle.

Some historians claim that he referred to Portugal as “his homeland”, but probably because he had spent many years there.

As in the case above, can we be sure that Christopher Columbus was Portuguese just because he had a strong tie with Portugal?

So, can we conclude that Christopher Columbus was Italian?

To the present day, we can’t be totally sure whether Christopher Columbus was Italian or had different origins: his biography is a bit chaotic, and – probably – he didn’t want to be clear about his origins.

However, things may change: this year, an international team of scientists gathered at the University in Granada to try the answer the question.

They aim to study Columbus’ DNA to determine his origins.

Using the evidence we have so far, we can conclude that – as many historical proofs point out – Christopher Columbus and his family were originally from Genoa, in north-western Italy, but that since a young age, he worked on trading ships and lived in different countries, eventually finding his fortune under the Spanish crown.

Still translating in your head? Wanna speak Italian for real? Check out Stefano's courses to think directly in Italian and become fluent fast!


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