At the foot of La Ramblas in Barcelona, Spain, defining the limit of the port and the perimeter of the city, there is a rather splendid statue. 60 metres (197 feet) on top of a column stands Christopher Columbus. Proudly erected there by the people of Barcelona in 1888 he stands as tall as many a man on a column, pointing with his arm outstretched to sea. Nursery rhymes, history books, and many of my American friends have had me believe most of my adult life that he “discovered” America. If you are reading this, and still believe this to be the case, I am sorry to have to tell you that it simply is not true.
Columbus did not discover, or even visit, the landmass we now call North America.
Whereas he was an accomplished sailor and navigator, and most certainly crossed the Atlantic from Europe, four times in fact, he only found some Caribbean islands, and turned south. He eventually landed in Venezuela. His legacy though is significant in that there has been a continuous flow of trans-Atlantic voyages since him. He enabled the patriation of America from Europe.
Although born in Genoa, Italy, Columbus was funded by the Spanish Monarchy, hence his journeys are commemorated in Spain. He was in fact sent to find a shorter route to the spice islands of the ‘East Indies’. He didn’t, but that’s another story.
History records that the viking explorer Leif Erikson crossed the Atlantic successfully in the 11th. Century, landing in Newfoundland, Canada. Centuries before that Chinese and Japanese explorers landed on the west coast of North America.
To find out why Columbus has been popularised as the “discoverer” of America we have to look no further back than 1776, in my view, when John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and others published the Declaration of Independence (from the British). At the time their contemporaries thought it would be useful to rally popular support behind a ‘hero’. They could not choose John Cabot, even though he definitely crossed from Britain to land on the North American continent in 1497. He too was Italian, from Venice, (Giovanni Caboto), but was funded and supported by Henry VII, the English King. The hero had to be non-English, so Columbus was chosen. A good choice of course as USA won and Britain lost!
Barcelona, Spain over Easter 2017 was a joy for a lone traveller, football fan, and people lover. I learnt to appreciate the joy in Gaudi’s architecture, the colossal atmosphere and majesty of the Nou Camp (Barcelona FC 3, Real Sociedad 2), the side streets and lanes of the centre of the city, and the laughter in Ciutadella Park.