Posts Tagged ‘Christopher Columbus’


Amerigo Vespucci Statue

With the holiday weekend celebrating America’s birthday now over, I decided on this lunchtime bike ride to visit a statue of our country’s namesake.  So during this ride I visited the grounds of the Pan American Union Building, which serves as The Headquarters for the Organization of American States, located on 17th Street between C Street and Constitution Avenue (MAP) in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood of northwest D.C.  One of the sculptures there is of an early Italian explorer named Amerigo Vespucci, who is the namesake of the continents of North and South America, and subsequently the United States of America.

The stone sculpture depicts a bust of Amerigo wearing a sea-farer hat of his era, and stands on a circular stone pedestal base with a relief of the globe inscribed on it. The base also contains an inscription which reads, “Amerigo Vespucci, 1454 – 1512.”

Amerigo Vespucci was born on March 9, 1454, in Ognissanti, Florence, Italy, the third son of Ser Nastagio Anastasio and Lisabetta Mini, members of a prominent Florentine family comprised of statesmen, philosophers, and clergy, which intermarried with the renowned Medici family who ruled Italy for more than 300 years. After being educated by his uncle, Amerigo worked for the Medicis as a banker, and later as a supervisor of their ship-outfitting business in Seville, Spain, where he moved in 1492. Amerigo’s position allowed him to see great explorers’ ships being prepared before they sailed off in search of new discoveries. In fact, Amerigo’s business helped outfit one of Christopher Columbus’ voyages, giving him the opportunity to talk with the explorer with whom he would one day be compared.

Fascinated with books and maps since he was young, his meeting with Columbus further fueled a fire burning inside him for travel and exploration. The fact that his business was struggling helped Amerigo, already in his forties, decide to leave the business behind and set out on his own voyage to see the “New World” while he still could.

Although historians are unsure of exactly how many voyages he embarked on, through his travels Amerigo was the first to be able to demonstrate that South America and the West Indies did not represent Asia’s eastern outskirts as initially conjectured from Columbus’ voyages, but instead constituted an entirely separate and previously unknown landmass. Based on the work of a German clergyman and amateur cartographer named Martin Waldseemüller, he labeled a portion of what is today Brazil as “America”, deriving its name from Americus, the Latin version of his name. Later, in 1538, a mapmaker named Gerardus Mercator applied the name “America” to all of the northern and southern landmasses of the New World.  The continents have been known as such ever since.

So here in the District of Columbia, a name which references Christopher Columbus and was chosen at a time when many people were still upset that we hadn’t actually named our new nation Columbia, I visited the statue of Amerigo Vespucci.  And although he never visited here on any of his voyages, Amerigo’s name is forever associated with our 239-year old country.

Vespucci03     Vespucci02
[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]


Monument to Cristoforo Columbo

There are a large number of official public monuments in the national capitol city which honor a wide range of historic figures. They include presidential monuments such as The Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial, as well as monuments to military leaders such as John Paul Jones, George B. McClellan and John Barry. There are also monuments and memorials to foreign leaders and dignitaries such as Winston Churchill of England, Robert Emmett of Ireland, Orlando Letelier of Chile, and Eleftherios Venizélos of Greece.  A variety of cultural and historic figures such as Albert Einstein, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mahatma Gandhi also have monuments and memorials dedicated to them. There are even monuments to religious leaders such as Francis Asbury, James Gibbons, and John Carroll.  So with all the different types of monuments to all the different types of people, I was surprised to learn that there is no public monument in D.C. to the man who is widely credited with founding and colonizing America and the “New World” – Christopher Columbus.

I found out, however, that there is a private monument to Christopher Columbus.  The private monument, known as the Monument to Cristoforo Colombo, is located in the garden in the courtyard of Holy Rosary Church, located at 595 3rd Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Judiciary Square neighborhood.  Christopher Columbus, as most Americans and English speaking people know him, is an Anglicization of his real name. He was born Cristoforo Colombo in Genoa, Italy.  Other languages have changed his name, too. He is known as Cristóbal Colón in Spanish, and Kristoffer Kolumbus in Swedish.

The Cristoforo Colombo Monument was a gift from the Lido Civic Club of D.C., which was established by Italian Americans in 1929 with the primary goal of assisting recent immigrants become assimilated into the ways of American business.  As Italian Americans in the D.C. area became more successful and affluent, the goals of the Club shifted towards more civic-minded activities that help not only Italian Americans but the D.C. area in general.

The plaque on the base of the monument reads, “This monument, erected on the occasion of the 1992 Quincentennial Jubilee celebrating the discovery of America, pays tribute to Cristoforo Colombo and his seafaring companions. Their bold voyage led to a historic encounter between the European world and the Americas. A turning point in Western Civilization, this event paved the way for the spreading of the Gospel and the establishment of a society anchored on the principles of Christian love and holiness. 1492 – 1992.”

Cristoforo Colombo was born in  in Genoa, Italy, in 1451, but later moved to Spain. It was in Spain, where he worked as a trader, that he got the idea that he could sail straight to China by crossing the Atlantic Ocean. As a trader he knew that there were great riches to be had in China and East Asia. However, traveling overland by the “Silk Road” was dangerous, and a sea route around Africa seemed much too long.  Like others during his lifetime, he believed that the world was formed mainly of one giant landmass consisting of Europe, Asia, and Africa.  That was mainly because these are the only continents mentioned in the Bible. They also believed that these continents were surrounded by one enormous body of water they called the Ocean Sea. It would turn out that Columbus was wrong. The Earth was much larger than was thought at the time, and there was another land mass between Europe and Asia – the Americas.

So what started out as a direct trip to China and East Asia which Colombo originally estimated to be approximately 2,400 miles, actually turned out to be a lot longer. Colombo’s calculations were only off by about 10,000 miles though.  And it wasn’t a direct route either.  Of course, there were already native people living in the Americas at the time. There even was a European, Leif Ericsson, who had been to the Americas before. However, it was Columbus’ voyage that started the exploration and colonization of this “New World.”

Interestingly, Columbo died thinking he had discovered a shortcut to Asia across the Atlantic Ocean, and never knew what an amazing discovery he had actually made.

It’s also interesting that the trip during which he “discovered” the Americas was not his last.  Columbo would eventually make three additional voyages to the Americas and back during his lifetime, and one more after his death.  After dying at the age of 55 in May of 1506, Columbo was buried in Valladolid, Spain.  His body was then moved to Seville.  Later, at the request of his daughter-in-law, the bodies of Columbo and his son Diego were shipped across the Atlantic to the island of Hispaniola, where they were interred in a Santo Domingo cathedral.  Centuries later, when the French captured the island, the Spanish dug up remains which they thought were his and moved them to Cuba.  They were then returned to Seville after the Spanish-American War.  However, a box with human remains and the explorer’s name was discovered inside the Santo Domingo cathedral in 1877, leading to speculation that the Spaniards exhumed the wrong body.  DNA testing in 2006 found evidence that at least some of the remains in Seville are those of Columbo.  But the Dominican Republic has refused to let the other remains be tested.  So it could be that, aptly, pieces of Columbo are both in the Old World and the New World.