Christopher Columbus was born in 1451, quite probably in Genoa, a city that had developed into an important Mediterranean centre of commerce.
At the time, the city-states of the Italic peninsula were trying to reach new Western markets, besides their traditional Eastern Mediterranean clients.
In 1476, Columbus was in Lisbon, acting as business manager for other Genoese traders. When he left Portugal in 1486, he was determined to reach India by sailing westward.
He lived for a few years in the Madeira archipelago, having, in 1479 or 1480, married Filipa de Moniz, daughter of Bartolomeu Perestrelo, the first Governor of Porto Santo.
At the same time he made contact with many Portuguese navigators who were connected to the discoveries in Africa’s Western coast, and brought to Europe news about misty, mysterious lands. Toscanelli’s calculations about the size of the Earth lead Columbus to believe in the possibility of reaching the East through the West.
He left Portugal after being unable to gain the support of King John II.
He then went to Castile, but Ferdinand and Isabella, the Catholic Kings, were at the time too occupied with the conquest of Granada, the last Muslim dominion in the Iberian peninsula, and did not pay him immediate attention. It was only in 1492 that Isabella gave the project her approval.
On the 3rd of August 1492, three ships left Palos: Santa Maria, commanded by Columbus, Pinta, commanded by Martín Alonso Pinzón and Niña, commanded by Vicente Yanez Pinzón.
After a short stop at the Canaries, Columbus left Gomera island in September. On the 12th of October came the first sight of new land: one of the islands of the Bahamas archipelago. He would also explore the coasts of Haiti and Cuba, always convinced he was in the East.
On his return, he stopped at Lisbon in 1493, where he was received by John II, who at once laid claim to the lands, creating a diplomatic crisis.
On the 14th of March 1493, Columbus’ first voyage came to an end. The Catholic Kings gave him a hero’s welcome.
On the 25th October 1493, he sailed westward again, in command of a powerful armada of 14 caravels and three large ships, which carried about 1500 people. During this second voyage, he discovered more islands: Guadeloupe, Puerto Rico, Martinique and the Antilles. He returned to Europe in the Spring of 1496, having left some settlers in Haiti.
In 1498, he sailed forth for the third time, discovering Trinidad and sighting the Venezuelan coast. But he was the victim of intrigues, and returned to Spain as a prisoner in 1500.
His fourth voyage took place in 1502, in the direction of the Honduras and Panama, which Columbus took to be Indochina, and where he looked insistently for the Malacca Strait. On his return to Europe, in 1504, he was received with indifference and died discredited in 1506. He always believed he had been to the Far East, and never knew the world also included the gigantic American continent and the Pacific Ocean.
Christopher Columbus: his connection to Madeira and Porto Santo
Christopher Columbus, probably a Genoese by birth, came to Madeira because of the sugar trade, which at the time was intense. He had arrived in Lisbon in 1476, and tried to become part of the Genoese community in the city.
During the 1470s, the Madeira sugar production was already of 44.800 lbs. a year. Several Florentines and Genoese, like Francisco Calvo, Misser Leão and Baptista Lomellini, were even sugar producers in Madeira.
In 1478, Columbus went to Madeira, working as an intermediate in the sugar-trade dealings of Paolo di Negro and Ludovico Centurione.
There were further ties between Columbus and Madeira. He was married to Filipa de Moniz, the daughter of Isabel Moniz and Bartolomeu Perestrelo, the first Governor of Porto Santo.
There are many versions and readings of this marriage and its importance, and even about Columbus’ origins. It is important, nonetheless, to point out that Columbus’ ancestors, like Perestrelo’s, come from Placenza.
The marriage was probably celebrated in Lisbon, in 1479 or 1480. A child, Diego Columbus, was born around 1480, in Lisbon or Porto Santo.
Columbus’ stay in Madeira, which probably took place between 1480 and 1482, allowed him to gather many important data on Atlantic navigation. At that time, the Portuguese were busy exploring the African Western coast.
When Columbus came to Porto Santo, the island’s Governor was his brother-in-law, who had the same name as his father-in-law.
The second Governor had been Pedro Correia, who was married to Guiomar Teixeira, the daughter of the Governor of Machico.
Porto Santo was often preferred to other ports of the region, like Machico or Funchal, for maintenance purposes.
In 1498, at the time of his third voyage to America, Columbus stopped once more at Porto Santo.
Several sources mention his stays at the Madeira archipelago, like the books Historia de las Indias, by Friar Bartolomé de las Casas, and Vida del Almirante Don Cristobal Colon, written by Colombus’ son Fernando, as well as a minute by Genoese notary Gerolamo Ventimiglia.
Also in 1498, Columbus visited Madeira island.
“He was given a great welcome, with celebrations, because he was known there, having lived there some time previously”, writes Bartolomé de las Casas. Columbus could only have stayed at João Esmeraldo’s Funchal house, popularly known as Casa de Colombo [Columbus House], in 1498, because the house had only been built by then.
According to Porto Santo oral tradition, the house where Columbus lived was in the location of the Porto Santo Museum. A stone wall with two ogival windows is, at least, proof that the construction dates from the time.
More important than the exact place where Columbus lived in Madeira is the fact that this archipelago is inseparably tied to his formation as a navigator, an important contribution to the discovery of a new continent.
Ansi que fuese á
vivir Cristobal Colon á la dicha isla de Puerto Santo,
donde engendró al dicho su primogenito heredero D.
Diego Colon, por ventura por sola esta causa de querer navegar,
dejar allí su mujer, y porque allí en aquella
isla y en la de Madera, que esta junto, y que tambien se havia
descubierto entónces, comenzaba a haber gran concurso
de navios sobre su poblacion y vecindad, y frecuentes nuevas
se tenian cada dia de los descubrimientos que de nuevo se
Frei Bartolomé de las Casas (1484-1566), Historia de
João Esmeraldo, also known as Jeanin Esmerandt or Esmerault, was born in Béthume, in the Artois county, and came from Bruges to Lisbon in 1480, as an employee of the Bruges-based Despars company, which dealt in Madeira sugar. He had to often travel to Madeira for business reasons, until he finally decided to settle there. He even became a sugar producer, having bought from Rui Gonçalves da Câmara a large property in Lombada, Ponta do Sol, Madeira island, where the Solar dos Esmeraldos [Esmeraldo Manor] still stands today, though in a greatly modified form.
His sugar dealings led him to meet fellow-trader Christopher Columbus, who had come to Portugal for the first time around 1476. In 1478, Paolo di Negri charged Columbus to load sugar in Madeira for the Genoese Ludovico Centurione. It was probably during Columbus’ 1480-82 stay in Madeira that he and Esmeraldo first met.
In 1498, Christopher Columbus, now an Admiral and Viceroy of the Indies and on his third voyage to America, stayed six days at Madeira. A centuries-old tradition says he stayed that time in João Esmeraldo’s Funchal house, which had been built around 1495 by stonemason Gomes Garcia, and unfortunately destroyed in 1876.
There is no clear date for the finding of the Canaries. Their first appearance in European maps dates from 1339, but they were surely known before that. In the late 12th century, there were Genoese expeditions in search of them. The 1367 Pizzigani chart depicts the archipelago almost in full. Unlike other Atlantic archipelagoes, the Canaries were inhabited, which seems to have delayed their occupation.
In the first quarter of the 14th century, Lanzarote Malocello attempted to control the island that will bear his name: Lanzarote. Several expeditions of Catalonians and Majorcans will take place during the rest of the century. In 1345, the Portuguese King, Afonso IV, laid claim to the islands. In 1402, Jean de Bettencourt conquests Lanzarote.
Portugal wanted to get a hold on the Canaries, as a strategic support for its incursions into the African Western coast. In 1415, Henry the Navigator sent there forces led by Dom João de Castro, but the occupation attempt failed, as did the 1424 expedition led by Dom Fernando de Castro, and a further one in 1427, led by António Gonçalves da Câmara. In 1448 Maciot de Bettencourt sold Lanzarote to Henry the Navigator. The island was briefly occupied by Antão Gonçalves. Henry the Navigator gave up possession of the island in 1454. In 1455, Henry V of Castile gave power over the Canaries to the Counts of Atouguia and Vila Real. In the 1480 treaty of Toledo, Portugal gave up any ambitions concerning the Canaries.