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CULTURE

Was Christopher Columbus in fact Spanish and not Italian?

The question of explorer Christopher Columbus’ nationality has caused confusion for years, with several different countries claiming to be his birthplace. Swirling theories suggest that he could have been Italian, Portuguese or Spanish.

Christopher Columbus
Columbus monument in Barcelona. Photo: David Berkowitz / Flickr

The Italian theory

It is widely believed by historians that the explorer Christopher Columbus was Italian and was born in or around city of Genoa as Cristoforo Colombo around 1451.

They believe he was the son of Domenico Colombo and Susanna Fontanarossa, who were wool merchants.

According to later accounts, including those by his son Ferdinand (or Hernando), Columbus left Genoa as a teenager and served in the Portuguese merchant marines. 

Historians say that the fact that Columbus was Italian was also confirmed in his son Ferdinand’s will. 

Or was he Portuguese?

Columbus had many strong ties with Portugal which led many people to think that he was actually Portuguese instead. After his seafaring missions as a teenager, Columbus settled in Portugal and married the Portuguese noblewoman Filipa Moniz Perestrelo, from Porto Santo Island in Madeira.

Some historians say that Columbus would not have been allowed to marry into the Portuguese nobility had he not been Portuguese himself.

Fernando Branco, a professor at Lisbon University even published a book claiming that Columbus was Portuguese. In it, he says that Columbus’ real name was Pedro Ataíde and he was a privateer who fled to Castile in 1485.

Or was he in fact Spanish?

It is said that Columbus or Cristóbal Colón, as he is called in Spanish, moved to Spain in 1485 looking for financial support for his voyages after the Portuguese turned him down.

However, some believe that he was actually from Spain all along. One of the main reasons for this is that there is no documentary evidence that Columbus ever wrote a single word in Italian – everything that he wrote was either in Castilian Valencian, Mallorquin, Galician or Portuguese.

The University of Granada has been analysing bone fragments and DNA from Columbus, as well as those from his brother and his son, Ferdinand and will look at theories that he was from Valencia, Galicia, Navarre and Mallorca, possibly giving a final answer to the beguiling question of his nationality. 

Launched in 2003, the study achieved a major breakthrough after DNA tests established that bones in a tomb in the cathedral in the southern city of Seville were indeed those of Columbus.

READ ALSO: Was Columbus actually Spanish? A new DNA study aims to discover explorer’s true origins

The results are thought to be released this October, however so far they have not been published. 

There are several theories that say that the explorer was actually Spanish but hid his origins either because he was a converted Jew or because of legal complications regarding his inheritance.

Francesc Albardaner i Llorens, a member of the Catalan Society of Historical Studies, believes that Columbus was born in Valencia into a family of converted Jews. He has suggested that Columbus’ father was an emigrant who arrived in Valencia from Liguria in Italy and married a woman from Valencia, meaning that Columbus could have been both Italian and Spanish.

Member comments

  1. There is a large contingents of Greeks who claim Columbus was from Chios. He wrote in his logs in Greek and Chios was under the control of Genoa at that time. It will be interesting to see what the University of Granada, the city in which I live, comes up with when their study is finally published. Since the Greek and Italian genotypes are so intermixed it may be inconclusive.

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DISCOVER SPAIN

Following the Dalí trail around Spain’s Costa Brava

Catalonia-based travel writer Esme Fox embarks on a voyage into the mind of Salvador Dalí, visiting various locations and landmarks that the Spanish surrealist created or made his own around Spain's Costa Brava.

Following the Dalí trail around Spain's Costa Brava

Surrealist painter Salvador Dalí is perhaps one of Spain’s most famous and loved 20th-century artists. He is known for his quirky images of melting clocks, elephants with long spindly legs and the portraits of his wife, Gala.

Dalí was born in the town of Figueres in 1904, which is located in northern Catalonia, approximately 50km north of the city of Girona. This is the best place to begin your Dalí tour of the region.

Figueres Day 1  

Arriving in Figueres your first stop should be the Salvador Dalí Theatre-Museum, this is where some of the artist’s most important works are held. The museum was in fact created by Dalí himself when he was still alive and was inaugurated in 1974. It’s housed in an old theatre, hence the name. Everything in it was designed by Dalí to offer visitors a real experience and draw them into his world.

It’s eye-catching even from the outside – pink in colour and studded with yellow plaster croissants, and on the walls sit golden statues and his iconic large white eggs – a symbol which you’ll see repeated on your journey.

Salvador Dalí Theatre Museum in Figueres. Photo: Julia Casado / Pixabay

The museum is filled with 1,500 pieces including his sketches, paintings and sculptures. It also houses the remains of Dalí himself, down in the crypt, where you can pay your respects to the artist.

Next door to the museum is a permanent exhibition dedicated to the exquisite jewellery Dalí designed, which shouldn’t be missed. 

Afterward, you can go and see the house where Dalí was born at number 6 on Carrer Monturiol. It’s not currently an attraction, however there are renovation works underway to turn it into a new museum about the artist’s childhood. It was due to open in 2020, but there were significant delays because of the pandemic and it is still nowhere near finished.

Spend the night at the Hotel Duran, where Salvador Dalí and his wife Gala in fact lived while they were renovating the theatre. The hotel restaurant even has a special Dalí room, filled with images of Dalí and all his friends, as well as objects belonging to the artist.

Cadaqués Days 2 and 3

After a winding and hairpin turn journey west, you’ll find yourself at one of the eastern-most points in Spain – the town of Cadaqués. One of the most attractive towns on the Costa Brava, its white-washed buildings gleam against the cerulean blue bay and pink bougainvillea decorates its tiny interior cobbled streets.

In summer in particular, this place gets very busy, so make sure you’ve booked well in advance for your accommodation.

Dalí loved this area in summer too and built his summer house in the tiny neighbouring village of Portlligat. The house is now a museum, but as it’s quite small, booking tickets several weeks or even months ahead of time is essential.

Dalí’s house in Portlligat. Photo: Esme Fox

Dalí designed the house himself, which was created from several fisherman’s cottages joined together and is topped with his iconic white eggs.

Inside, you’ll see the artist’s studio, where many of his most famous works were created, including two unfinished pieces which still sit on the easels. You can also see Dalí and Gala’s bedroom where they kept canaries to wake them up in the morning and crickets to send them off to sleep at night. There’s also an angled mirror ready to catch the sun, ensuring that Dalí was one of the first people in the whole of Spain to see the sunrise each morning.

The highlight of the visit however is the vast garden, which even features a replica of the lion fountain in Granada’s Alhambra palace as well as his famous sofa in the shape of a pair of pink lips. The views from the top part of his garden above the olive grove are so stunning that it’s no wonder Dalí was inspired by the landscapes here.

There’s a replica of Alhambra’s lion fountain in Dalí’s garden. Photo: Esme Fox

On your second day in Cadaqués, head north to Paratge de Tudela located in the Cap de Creus Natural Park. You’ll need a car or taxi to get here. Here, you can hike among the very same landscape that Dalí painted in some of his most celebrated works. Look carefully or take a tour to see the same rock formations featured in his paintings.

For dinner, book a table at El Barroco, a traditional Lebanese restaurant and one of Dalí’s favourites when he lived there. He ate there at least twice a week in summer and it’s said that whenever he had famous guests he would meet them there instead of inviting them into his home. Dalí’s face adorns the door and inside it’s just as surreal with colourful plants, quirky statues and mirrors hanging in the courtyard. And inside it’s like a museum itself, filled with glass cases of bizarre objects and old musical instruments. There are even some photos of Dalí and Gala.

Book a table at El Barroco in Cadaqués. Photo: Esme Fox

Day 4

Make your way 60km south of Cadaques to the tiny charming villages of inland Costa Brava and specifically the village of Púbol. It’s here that Dalí bought an old castle in 1969 and renovated it from 1982 to 1984 for his wife Gala to live in.

Although the castle dates back to the 12th century, Dalí modernised it and added his creative and whimsical touches. It was a kind of love letter to his wife.

Dalí said of the castle: “Everything celebrates the cult of Gala, even the round room, with its perfect echo that crowns the building as a whole and which is like a dome of this Galactic cathedral… I needed to offer Gala a case more solemnly worthy of our love. That is why I gave her a mansion built on the remains of a 12th-century castle: the old castle of Púbol in La Bisbal, where she would reign like an absolute sovereign, right up to the point that I could visit her only by hand-written invitation from her. I limited myself to the pleasure of decorating her ceilings so that when she raised her eyes, she would always find me in her sky”.

Visit Gala’s castle in Púbol. Photo: Enric / WikiCommons

When Gala died in 1982, the castle became her mausoleum and she is still buried there today.

The castle is now a museum where you can tour each of the grand rooms, serene gardens, as well as spot Dalí’s whacky touches. Gala for example asked Dalí to cover up the radiators because she didn’t like to look at them, so as a joke, Dalí covered them with paintings of yet more radiators. 

Day four completes your Dalí trail around the Costa Brava. Go ahead and immerse yourself in the whimsical world of Dalí. 

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