Christopher Columbus in Madeira
The legends of Christopher Columbus have become notorious in history with many people debating whether he was the son of a Genoa weaver born in Italy or was he born in Portugal since he never spoke or wrote in his native language of Italian and always wrote in Portuguese and later Spanish. Much of Christopher Columbus’ early life is unknown except when he first came to Portugal and then the colonized islands of Madeira and Porto Santo. It was here on the island of Porto Santo, where it said he learned a lot about sailing and the various wind patterns from his father-in-law Barthelameo Perstello who was the Portuguese navigator and discoverer of the island of Porto Santo. Here on the small island of Porto Santo, Columbus met his future wife and mother of his son Filipa Moniz Prestelllo. It is unknown how Colombus first met Filipa since she came from a noble Portuguese family who socialized in only certain circles of society. However, the noblewomen married the commoner Christopher Columbus which elevated his status both in Portugal and in Europe. The marriage between Filipa and Christopher resulted in their son Diogo being born, who became his father’s second in command on board his discoveries in the new world.
After marrying Columbus, Filipa granted access to her father’s maps, diagrams, and diary entries from the early years of exploration. Columbus spent hours, days, and weeks pouring over all the documents that studied various wind patterns and locations of newly discovered lands trying to find a shorter route to the East. It is uncertain why Columbus never stayed with his wife and family in Porto Santo, being the son-in-law of the governor of the island, a title given to Filipa’s father by the King of Portugal to is passed on to the heir of the family. His ambition to discover new lands and create new wealth for himself was a driving force in his desire to reach the unknown. After courting the King of Portugal for a couple of years with no avail, Columbus then leaves Portugal for Spain, a rival neighboring nation where he presented his case to discover a new path to the East. Columbus never let anything derail his vision, and time and time again, he approached the Royal Court and asked for them to finance his journey. In 1494 it was to be Columbus’ year when King Ferdinand and Queen Isabela agreed to fund his venture in the crown’s name. It is then that Columbus and his oldest son Diogo with a crew of about 100 men and three ships, set sail for the new world. Filipa died at the age of 58 to tuberculosis and was most likely heartbroken from her husband’s long voyages keeping them apart for years.
Above is a photo of the house that still stands on the island of Porto Santo, where Columbus and his wife and family lived during his years on the island. It is open to the public and has become a neat spot to walk around on the cobblestone streets and imagine a faraway time where Columbus and some of Portugal’s greatest navigators walked and looked out to the ocean only to discover new lands, people, and cultures. After Columbus’s death, the home remained in the family, where the noble Portuguese family continued to govern over the island for generations. Columbus’s oldest son Diogo wrote a biography on his father and the voyages he accompanied him on. His son Diogo courted the Spanish court to reinstate his father’s titles, dowries, and inheritance after Columbus died. A direct line of ancestry exists to this day from Christopher Columbus and his wife Filipa Moniz, with many titles still in use by Columbus’s heirs in Spain.