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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
peopleGerman paper published pictures of 18-month-old daughter
Arts and Entertainment
'A voice untroubled by time': Kate Bush
musicKate Bush set to re-enter album charts after first conerts in 35 years
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Williams' life story will be told in a biography written by a New York Times reporter
arts + ents
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drink
Life and Style
Voices
voices
Sport
Roger Federer is greeted by Michael Jordan following his victory over Marinko Matosevic
tennisRoger Federer gets Michael Jordan's applause following tweener shot in win over Marinko Matosevic
News
peopleJustin Bieber accuses paparazzi of acting 'recklessly' after car crash
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Oppressive atmosphere: the cast of 'Tyrant'
tvIntroducing Tyrant, one of the most hotly anticipated dramas of the year
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Merger and Acquisition Project Manager

£500 - £550 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client are currently...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£50 - £55 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN TAWe are looking to recrui...

Technical Manager – Heat Pumps

£40000 Per Annum dependent on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: They ...

Test Job

TBC: Test Recruiter for iJobs: Job London (Greater)

Day In a Page

Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?
Rachael Lander interview: From strung out to playing strings

From strung out to playing strings

Award-winning cellist Rachael Lander’s career was almost destroyed by the alcohol she drank to fight stage fright. Now she’s playing with Elbow and Ellie Goulding
The science of saturated fat: A big fat surprise about nutrition?

A big fat surprise about nutrition?

The science linking saturated fats to heart disease and other health issues has never been sound. Nina Teicholz looks at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
Emmys 2014 review: Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars

Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars?

The recent Emmy Awards are certainly glamorous, but they can't beat their movie cousins
On the road to nowhere: A Routemaster trip to remember

On the road to nowhere

A Routemaster trip to remember
Hotel India: Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind

Hotel India

Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind
10 best pencil cases

Back to school: 10 best pencil cases

Whether it’s their first day at school, uni or a new project, treat the student in your life to some smart stationery
Arsenal vs Besiktas Champions League qualifier: Gunners know battle with Turks is a season-defining fixture

Arsenal know battle with Besiktas is a season-defining fixture

Arsene Wenger admits his below-strength side will have to improve on last week’s show to pass tough test
Pete Jenson: Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought

Pete Jenson: A Different League

Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought
This guitar riff has been voted greatest of all time

The Greatest Guitar Riff of all time

Whole Lotta Votes from Radio 2 listeners
Britain’s superstar ballerina

Britain’s superstar ballerina

Alicia Markova danced... every night of the week and twice on Saturdays
Berlin's Furrie invasion

Berlin's Furrie invasion

2000 fans attended Eurofeurence
‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

Driven to the edge by postpartum psychosis