Amerigo Vespucci – March 9, 1454 – February 22, 1512

It is a strange fact that two great 14th Century Navigator Explorers, Amerigo Vespucci and Giovanni di Verrazzano both originated within a 10 mile area in land locked Tuscany!

Amerigo’s family home was in the village of Montefioralle just outside the village of Greve in Chianti – where the family home is marked by their logo – a Vespa  (a wasp – the annoying buzzy things that also gave their name to the iconic Italian scooter!)

Giovanni da Verrazano was born, around 1485, on his family’s castle, Castello Verrazzano, near Val di Greve, – both areas about 30 miles south of Florence.

Neither of them made their discoveries in the name of a ruler of Italy but had to travel to other parts of Europe to finance their wanderlust.

Amerigo Vespucci takes the credit for naming the whole Continent of America having explored the east coast of South America between 1499 and 1502 under the flag of the King of Portugal.

On the first of his voyages he was aboard the ship that discovered that South America extended much further south than previously thought – but he was not the Ship’s Master or Commander – but an observer who wrote and published two accounts of their expeditions between 1502-1504 .

In 1507, Martin Waldseemüller produced a world map on which he named the new continent America after a femine form of Vespucci’s first name, Amerigo. Naturally there was some criticism that Amerigo was trying to steal the glory from Christopher Columbus but I cant see any evidence that this was his idea – more a suggestion of Wallseemuller who wrote  “I do not see what right any one would have to object to calling this part, after Americus who discovered it and who is a man of intelligence, Amerige, that is, the Land of Americus, or America: since both Europa and Asia got their names from women”.

The Vespucci family Parish church in Florence was Ognissanti (All Saints)- on Borgo Ognissanti on the North Bank of the Arno.

There is a portrait group of the family done by Ghirlandaio within the family chapel where the family – and family friend Alessandro di Mariano di Vanni Filipepi  (Sandro Botticelli  1445– May 17 1510) are buried.  Rather sadly the position of Botticelli’s grave is marked by a arrow ill drawn on paper in biro – probably drawn in frustration by a priest who was fed up of pointing it out to tourists!

Some people have suggested that Botticelli had fallen in love with Amerigo’s distant cousin the Genoese born “Queen of Beauty” Simonetta Vespucci – (b1453 – d26 April 1476) a view supported by his request to be buried at her feet – but whilst her beauty might have inspired his painting of the face of Venus – his tastes did not seem to tend towards women – however slim and beautiful – and it is particularly unlikely that he should want to compete for her affections against his patrons Lorenzo and Guiliano di Medici .

Below is an image of Amerigo Vespucci taken from Ghirlandaio’s painting – found in Vespucci  Chapel in the church of Ognissanti .

Amerigo Vespucci  died on February 22, 1512 in Seville, Spain, of an unknown cause.

The Navigator Giovanni da Verrazzano is now best commemorated for his discovery of the Hudson River Bay by the Verrazzano Narrows Bridge  a suspension bridge that connects the boroughs of Staten Island and Brooklyn in New York City at the Narrows– If you want more information about the Verrizzano Bridge – watch this YouTube clip of Tony Manero (John Travolta).


Greve in Chianti

The Verrazzano family are better known and highly respected in Italy for quality wines – but there is a statue commemorating the explorer in the centre of Greve (shown above and below).

Navigator and explorer Verrazzano

Born in 1485 – around 1506-7  Giovanni  moved to Dieppe, France to pursue a maritime career. He made several voyages to the Eastern Mediterranean, and probably also visited Newfoundland. In 1524 or 1525, he was sent out by king Francis I of France to explore the region between Florida and Newfoundland to find a route to the Pacific.

He made landfall near what is now known as Cape Fear and moved northward to discover the Hudson Bay- which is now New York Harbour

Later Verrazzano made 2 more voyages to the Americas. On the first, he cut logwood in Brazil; on the second (in 1528) he was killed by the natives of one of the Antilles, probably Guadeloupe.

Dangerous work exploration!