Portuguese village opens up new world of speculation as it lays claim to Columbus

Christopher Columbus was born in Cuba - at least that's what they say in the village of that name south-east of Lisbon in the heart of Portugal's Alentejo region. Portugal's first statue of the explorer is to be unveiled in Cuba's central square on Saturday, the 514th anniversary of Columbus's landfall on the Caribbean island later named after his supposed birthplace.

The 7ft bronze monument, showing the Admiralbestriding the globe, rolled map in one hand, shading his eyes with the other, will stand upon a granite pedestal facing Cuba's ancient palace of Duke Fernando of Beja, of whom, so the theory goes, Cristovao Colom was the illegitimate son.

The ceremony, to be attended by Portugal's Culture Minister, Isabel Pires de Lima, will strengthen the arguments of Portuguese historians that the voyager who first set foot in the Americas was neither Genoese, as is generally thought, nor Catalan - as a counter lobby insists - but Portuguese, of mixed noble and Jewish blood.

The mystery of why Columbus apparently covered up his Portuguese roots - even though he spoke the language fluently - is explained by the possibility that he was secretly working as a double agent for the Portuguese King Joao II, while accepting riches to fund his transatlantic voyages of discovery from Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain - Portugal's bitterest rivals in the conquest of America.

Cuban locals recall hearing tales dating from the early 1900s that he was baptised in the village church. But the first serious research was published by the Portuguese historian Mascarenas Barreto in his 1988 book, Cristovao Colom, agente secreto do rei Dom Joao II. Barreto hypothesised that the explorer was really Salvador Fernandez Zarco, who assumed the pseudonym Cristovao Colom to present himself to the Spanish royal court.

A year after Barreto published his study, a US scholar Manuel Luciano de Silva joined the trail. How, the two historians asked, could a man said to have come from a humble family of Genoese weavers move in courtly circles, and marry a noblewoman? Why did a young Genoese who left his home town at 24 express himself only in Spanish, or Portuguese, even when writing to his Genoese friends? Why did he name none of his discoveries in the New World after Italian places, whilst peppering the region with Portuguese place names like Veracruz, Santo Domingo - and Cuba?

Salvador Fernandez Zarco was the son of Isabel Gonsalves Zarco, daughter of the Jewish Portuguese navigator Joao Gonsalves Zarco, the discoverer of the Atlantic island of Porto Santo, near Madeira. Dom Fernando Duque de Beja had an illegitimate son with Isabel. She gave birth to Salvador at the duke's palace in Cuba - 12km north of the town of Beja - in 1448. When the boy was six he travelled with her to Porto Santo, and at 14 began his career as a seaman and navigator.

Christopher Columbus married Filipa Perestrello e Moniz, the daughter of Madeira's governor, in 1479 - an achievement Portuguese historians consider impossible unless he was himself of noble birth - and she bore his first son, Diego.

Da Silva and Barreto reckon Columbus never revealed his true identity because the Duke of Beja was a mortal enemy of King Joao II, who had ordered Fernando's assassination. This apparently explains why the duke's natural son Columbus hastened to Spain, and refused King Joao's written invitation to return, in a letter guaranteeing that Columbus would suffer no harm.

Historians point to the curious fact that when Columbus returned from his first voyage of discovery he landed first in Lisbon and, armed with that letter, sought an audience with "his" king.

He spent a week in the Portuguese royal palace before sailing to Spain to report to the monarchs of the discoveries that they had financed.

The Portuguese historian Joaquin Verissimo believes Columbus secretly served the monarchs of both Spain and Portugal.

Today's claimant to the Portuguese throne, Dom Duarte de Braganza, direct descendent of Duke Fernando, has donated a blood sample to the Spanish and Portuguese governments in the hope his DNA can be matched with that of Columbus or his descendants.

Who was Columbus?

Spaniards call him Cristobal Colon, Italians Cristoforo Colombo, Catalans Cristofol Colom. Whatever his real name, the explorer who sailed the ocean blue to discover America in 1492 was either Catalan, Spanish or Portuguese depending on which rival historian you ask.

Usually said to have been born of a humble family in Genoa in 1451, he made three more journeys after his first, momentous voyage, all funded by the Spanish crown, still believing he had reached Asia.

He opened the door to Spain's conquest of the Americas. He died on 20 May 1506 in Valladolid, Spain. His remains were taken to Seville's Carthusian monastery, then to the cathedral of Santo Domingo, at the request of his son Diego. They were later removed to Havana and, possibly, returned to Seville.

Only DNA testing can prove his origins and which bones in various graves are his.

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Sport
Esteban Cambiasso makes it 3-3
premier league
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
News
people'I hated him during those times'
News
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
News
i100
News
Dame Vivienne Westwood has been raging pretty much all of her life
peopleFirst memoir extracts show she 'felt pressured' into going out with the Sex Pistols manager
Arts and Entertainment
Lauryn Hill performing at the O2 Brixton Academy last night
musicSinger was more than 90 minutes late
Sport
Lewis Hamilton in action during the Singapore Grand Prix
Formula OneNico Rosberg retires after 14 laps
News
i100
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: 'Time Heist' sees a darker side to Peter Capaldi's Doctor
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam