Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Columbus Conspiracy

It's one of those stories which pops up on a regular basis, normally about once a year and not because of the annual day, i.e. 12 October, when Christopher Columbus discovered the Americas, specifically the island he called San Salvador.

The recurring story is the one of where Columbus came from. Whole lives' works have been spent in the attempt to prove that the generally accepted view that he came from Genoa is bunkum. Why do people persist in seeking to disprove the Genoa theory and in wishing to locate his origin elsewhere? Different reasons. Scholarly obstinacy is one. The desire to reveal a whole different truth (and a real one at that) is another. To expose a conspiracy is a third.

The conspiracy is twofold. One is that a Catholic-centred perception of Columbus cannot permit him to be or to have been of a Jewish background. The other is the Hispanic necessity. In the name of the Crown of Castile and of Isabel I, the queen at the time, albeit she was married to an Aragonese, Ferdinand, and in the subsequent name of Castile over centuries, to grant Columbus a Catalan background is an impossibility.

The Jewish-Catalan collision is central to the theory of the Ibizan researcher Nito Verdera. In an interview with "El Mundo", he has once more explained why he believes that Columbus - his family at any rate - had moved to Ibiza from Catalonia, why he is convinced that this family and Columbus were "conversos" (converted from Judaism to Catholicism), and why therefore Columbus was born in Ibiza Town.

Verdera has established a museum in Ibiza. The house where it is located was documented in the fourteenth century as having been lived in by a Francesc Colom. The surname is important. This Catalan style was to appear in various documents concerning Columbus. The Castellano style - Colón - did not.

The name is an essential ingredient in Verdera's argument. Linguistics in more general terms are also essential, as they have been with other researchers. In 2009, for example, Estelle Irizarry, emeritus professor of Spanish literature at the University of Georgetown in Washington, published her "The DNA Of The Writings Of Columbus". Irizarry places Columbus as having come from Catalan-speaking Aragon and having been descended from the Jewish-Spanish race persecuted from the fourteenth century. The language used by Columbus, she maintains, was Ladino-Catalan, Ladino having been the language of the Sephardic Jews.

In the Balearics, the more recognised Columbus alternative theory is that of Gabriel Verd. Columbus - Cristòfor Colom - was born in Felanitx in 1460 (not 1451, which is the year usually given) and was the illegitimate son of the Prince of Viana from Aragon, the brother of Ferdinand. He was therefore the king's nephew. His mother was Margarita Colom, and he was to rise to the prominence he did in the Spanish court because of this secretive family background. This is an important part of Verd's theory, because the Genoa connection - Columbus had a humble background - has never really adequately explained how Columbus came to be hanging around royal circles.

Verdera dismisses Verd's theory. Columbus, according to Verd, would have only been 46 when he died in 1506. There are documents which suggest he was 60 when he died, meaning he had been born earlier than 1451 (in Genoa) and certainly earlier then 1460 (in Felanitx at the finca of s'Alqueria Roja to be precise). Verdera is also upset that he, unlike Verd, has not been given financial support for his research. In 2004, María Antonia Munar, then the president of the Council of Mallorca, approved a grant of over 50,000 euros. "I have a patent interest in Christopher Columbus being from Mallorca. I feel satisfied at having shown my support for Professor Gabriel Verd, and I intend to continue to do so," she said. A research programme, "Development of Human Genetic Research on Columbus's Origins", was to receive the grant to study theories that Columbus was born in Mallorca and "whose staunchest supporter is the historian Gabriel Verd".

The Ibiza theory, as far as Verdera is concerned, is the accurate one. Likewise, Verd sticks to his Felanitx theory. They can't both be right, and only limited numbers of people will believe that either of them is right. Among those who refuse to believe either of them are all the scholars down the years who have maintained that Columbus - Christoffa Corombo - was from Genoa. An alternative theory, were it ever proven, would leave an awful lot of people with egg on their faces.

And this - definitive proof - is unlikely to ever be unearthed. For all the counter theories, there are ones that give credence to Genoa having been his birthplace. Much is made of Columbus not having written in Italian, but the Ligurian of Genoa was not a written language. He wouldn't necessarily have known Italian. But the search for proof continues nonetheless.

Index for November 2016

Airbnb - 11 November 2016, 19 November 2016
Balearic maximum population - 4 November 2016
Canaries tourism website - 15 November 2016
Christmas shopping - 26 November 2016
Christopher Columbus - 30 November 2016
Creative tourism - 17 November 2016
Day of the Dead - 1 November 2016
Dijous Bo - 12 November 2016
Donald Trump and Spain - 10 November 2016
Employment and seasonality - 2 November 2016
Golf history - 13 November 2016
Holiday brochures - 9 November 2016
Interior tourism - 22 November 2016
José Ramón Bauzá - 28 November 2016
Podemos at war - 14 November 2016
Politicians' clothing sense - 20 November 2016
Puerto Pollensa - 21 November 2016
Regionalism - 16 November 2016
Slogans and tourism - 29 November 2016
Tourism debate in the Balearics - 18 November 2016
Tourism minister - 6 November 2016, 8 November 2016
Tourism promotion - 3 November 2016, 5 November 2016
Trasmediterránea - 27 November 2016
Travel fairs of the past - 7 November 2016

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