We The Italians | Great Italians of the past: Amerigo Vespucci

Great Italians of the past: Amerigo Vespucci

Great Italians of the past: Amerigo Vespucci

  • WTI Magazine #95 Sep 15, 2017
  • 95

Despite being less "famous" than Christopher Columbus, Amerigo Vespucci is the Italian who inspired America to choose its own name. And America did it for a reason: if Christopher Columbus was able to be the first to get in such distant lands for a European, Amerigo Vespucci was the first to understand that those lands were not part of Asia, but a new, hitherto unknown portion of the world. 

Vespucci was born on March 9, 1454 in Florence and moved to Seville in 1489. In the Spanish city he knows Christopher Columbus. Great expert of the seas and the sky, Amerigo Vespucci communicates his historical insight in two letters: “Mundus Novus” (New World) and “The letter” (The fourth voyage), in which he speaks of the "fourth part of the Earth ... a continent inhabited by a multitude of people and animals, more than our Europe, Asia or Africa itself. " 

From 1497 to 1498 Amerigo makes his first trip in what later would have been called America. Moving towards south, he passes close to a bay that describes this way: "... a village similar to a city, located above the waters as Venice, in which there were twenty large houses, not distant one to each other, built and founded on strong poles”. That space is the current Maracaibo Bay: Venezuela, too, owes its name to Amerigo Vespucci. 

His second voyage, between 1499 and 1500, leads to another sensational discovery.

When the entire fleet, led by Alonso de Hojeda, arrives to the current Guyana, Vespucci decides to separate and head south. He writes to Lorenzo di Pier Francesco de Medici: "I believe that these two rivers are the cause of fresh water into the sea. We decided to enter in one of these great rivers and to navigate through it until finding the opportunity to visit those lands and those people ... so, browsing the river, we saw quite sure signs that the interior of the lands were inhabited ". Amerigo Vespucci was the first European to reach the estuary of the Amazon. On this trip, the Florentine explorer also identifies the four southern stars that later take will be called “Southern Cross”. 

During the third trip to America, between 1501 and 1504, Vespucci goes further up to Patagonia, noting the existence of two stars, which will later be referred to as Alpha and Beta Centauri. Rumors has that Ferdinando Magellano, to motivate his men in 1520, would have shouted "Amerigo Vespucci arrived here, our fate is going further!". 

The veracity of the insights of Amerigo Vespucci is endorsed by the extraordinary knowledge the Italian navigator had in the cosmographic field. According to the historical reconstruction of some of his reflections, he was responsible for the measurement of longitude by the method of lunar distance. 

Vespucci died in Seville in 1512. In 1508 he was appointed by King Ferdinand II Aragon "Piloto Mayor de Castilla", ie organizer of expeditions and instructor of pilots and cartographers.

560 years after the day of his birth, Italy and America can remember the Italian man who donated to the New Continent something that is essential for each of us: its name.