Was Christopher Columbus in fact Spanish and not Italian?

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

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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