Giovanni da Verrazzano was a Florentine explorer who was first to land on the Atlantic coast of North America. Although not much is known about his personal life, he had an interesting career which began as a pirate and ended in an unfortunate manner. Know more about him through these 10 facts.
#1 There is confusion regarding his birthplace
There are a few theories about the birthplace of Verrazzano, the most prominent one being that he was born in Val di Greve near Florence, Italy, in 1485. This theory is supported by the facts that he himself, as well as his contemporaries, considered that he was Florentine.
#2 He spent his early years as a pirate
In 1506, Verrazzano moved to the port of Dieppe in France. He spent many years as a pirate for France, preying on Spanish and Portuguese sea vessels. It is said that he was responsible for stealing gold worth $2 million from Spanish vessels.
#3 Verrazzano served King Francis I of France
Giovanni da Verrazzano met King Francis I of France between 1522 and 1523. In early sixteenth century, Spanish and Portuguese explorers were exploring the west and Francis I was concerned that France would fall behind. Verrazzano convinced the King that he was the right man to lead the voyages.
#4 He wanted to find the sea route to the Pacific Ocean
The aim of Verrazzano’s 1524 voyage was to find a sea route to the Pacific Ocean and Asia. His ship La Dauphine, however, reached the Pamlico Sound lagoon of modern North Carolina near Cape Fear.
#5 He discovered various places along the coast of North America
Verrazzano began exploring the Atlantic coast of North America towards north. While doing so he discovered New York Harbor, Block Island and Narragansett Bay. However as he usually anchored far off-shore, he missed discovering the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays.
#6 His one error split North America in two parts in maps
While exploring North Carolina’s other side, Verrazzano believed that he saw the Pacific Ocean. He wrote so in a letter to Francis I. However what he saw was actually a part of the Atlantic Ocean. This fault by Verrazzano caused errors in maps for a century. They depicted North America as being split into two parts, connected by a narrow strip of land.
#7 Verrazzano was eaten by cannibals
In March 1528, Verrazzano left France on his final voyage. His goal was to reach India. The expedition, which included his brother Girolamo, drifted into the Caribbean Sea. They found a vegetated island south of Jamaica and Verrazzano and his crew decided to explore it. Here they were caught by cannibalistic natives, who killed and ate them while Girolamo helplessly watched from the main ship.
#8 Verrazano–Narrows Bridge made him popular in New York
In 1524, Verazzano became the first European to enter the New York Harbor and the Hudson River. However he was largely unknown in New York City whose people regarded Henry Hudson’s voyage in 1609 as the de facto start of European exploration of New York. This changed with time, especially after the naming of the Verrazano–Narrows Bridge after him in 1960.
#9 The Bridge was about to be named after John F. Kennedy
There was controversy regarding the naming of the bridge with authorities considering it too long and not knowing who Verrazzano was. It was finally accepted with efforts by the Italian Historical Society of America. However, after the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963, thousands of people demanded that the bridge be named after the President but Robert Kennedy made sure that it was named after the explorer.
#10 He remains extremely popular in Staten Island
Verrazzano’s explorations increased the knowledge base of mapmakers regarding the geography of the East Coast of North America. He remains popular in Staten Island, New York. A league is named after him and apart from the Verrazano–Narrows Bridge; two more bridges carry forward his name: Jamestown Verrazzano Bridge and Maryland’s Verrazano Bridge.