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.

Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
Sport
The giant banner displayed by Legia Warsaw supporters last night
football Polish side was ejected from Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
News
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
news It's not just the world that's a mess at the moment...
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
peopleAsked whether he was upset not to be invited, he responded by saying he was busy with the Emmy Awards
News
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
peopleBill Kerr appeared in Hancock’s Half Hour and later worked alongside Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
news
Sport
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
News
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
people
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Life and Style
tech
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
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

Java Developer - 1 year contract

£350 - £400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Cent...

Junior Analyst - Graduate - 6 Month fixed term contract

£17000 - £20000 Per Annum Bonus, Life Insurance + Other Benefits: Clearwater P...

SAS Business Analyst - Credit Risk - Retail Banking

£450 - £500 per day: Orgtel: SAS Business Analyst, London, Banking, Credit Ris...

Project Manager - Pensions

£32000 - £38000 Per Annum Bonus, Life Insurance + Other Benefits: Clearwater P...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone