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Amerigo Vespucci and Cristoforo Colombo: who discovered America?

A person eager to capture images and looks with his eyes, words and sounds with his ears, smells and smells with his nose, sensations and hugs with his hands, letting himself be infected by the taste of discovery and challenge. The traveler is not a slave to the time of the hands and the five senses, but he is accompanied by them, as if they were trusted companions and indispensable tools, to grasp the whole essence of the journey which, as Marcel Proust wrote, “does not consist in seeking new horizons, but in having new eyes “. It is in this spirit that the Viaggiatori nel Tempo column is born: this is the second episode, dedicated to another great Italian traveler: Amerigo Vespucci. We will try to answer the question: “Who discovered America?”

“America!”. Amerigo Vespucci, a discovery divided in half

“We sailed until we met that the South Pole rose fifty-two degrees above the horizon, in terms that we could not already see the Ursa Major nor the minor. On April 3 there was a storm so strong that it made us lower the sails, the wind was of the east with very large waves and stormy air. So strong was the storm that the whole crew was in great fear. The nights were very long, that of April 7 was fifteen hours, because the sun was at the end of Aries and in this region it was winter. In the midst of the storm we saw a new land on April 7th, which we traveled about twenty leagues, encountering wild coasts, and we saw no harbor or people in it, I think because the cold was so intense that no one in the fleet could stand it. “.

It seems to be able to touch all those stars with a finger, wrapped in the wonder of the southern sky. To write about it in his “Letters” is Amerigo Vespucci, during the expedition that between 1501 and 1504 took him to Patagonia, up to Rio Cananor, before returning to Portugal. It is difficult not to be surprised to imagine that man, lying on the bridge of the ship, point out the constellations with the fingertips. On the other hand, since the beginning of its existence, every living being has turned its eyes to the sky to scrutinize its immensity and grasp its magic – even the violent one of the flashes that pierce the night – orientate or simply dream.

Amerigo Vespucci and Cristoforo Colombo: who discovered America?

Florentine, born around 1452, Amerigo Vespucci is remembered as one of the greatest navigators and explorers of the New World, so important to “baptize” with his own name the continent discovered at the end of the fifteenth century (the name “America” was given to the continent from the cartographer Martin Waldseemüller who in 1507 drew a map of the globe then known) and dividing the discovery with Christopher Columbus who first reached it unconsciously. Thanks to the cosmographic and geographical knowledge learned in the city of Giglio, Amerigo is able to intuit that the frontier reached cannot be part of the Asian continent, but must belong to a land that is still unknown.

“I came to the land of the Antipodes and recognized that I was in the presence of the fourth part of the Earth. I discovered the continent inhabited by a multitude of peoples and animals, more than our Europe, Asia or Africa itself “.

The idea of “setting out” intrigues him since 1489 when, having arrived in Spain, Amerigo Vespucci meets Cristoforo Colombo. In 1497 he decided to leave for the New World on behalf of Ferdinand II of Aragon. Moving it is not only the desire to discover new lands but also the scientific curiosity to follow up on his studies. He writes that he met anthropophagous men …

“We find that they were of a generation who call themselves canibals, and that most of this generation live on human flesh … but some do not eat” …

… and wonderful nature, as Amerigo Vespucci tells his friend and patron Lorenzo di Pier Francesco de ‘Medici:

“What I saw was … So many parrots and so many different species that it was a wonder; some colored green, others of a splendid lemon yellow and other blacks and well in flesh … The trees I saw are of such and such beauty and lightness that we thought we were in the earthly paradise ”.

It is precisely this description, at times fabulous, which, as happened with Marco Polo, made many contemporaries doubt the veracity of the explorations carried out and the realities encountered by Amerigo Vespucci, often considered “romanticized”. Pearls and precious stones donated to the king were not enough, or the slaves captured and then sold to the market of Cadiz, to convince the men of his time.

Even his death remains shrouded in mystery: the tradition that wants him dead in Seville because of malaria in 1512 on his return from a journey is not universally recognized. Among the accusations that he was unjustly made against him. that of appropriating the glory of the discovery of a new continent. Amerigo, on the other hand, always recognized the glory of the Colombo friend he described as hombre de bien, a noble spirit man.

Who discovered America? We can only imagine how it would have been to see these two sailors sail together, observe the stars together, learn from each other like two old friends, dream together about new journeys and adventures to live together …

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