Famous Italian Explorers and Their Accomplishments

Can you imagine a world with just one continent? Well, neither can I. We owe it to the fearless Italian explorers of the Old World, who’s brave and adventurous spirit took a journey traveling far in the unknown, drawing a new world map.

The Age of Exploration, during the Renaissance era, was a period in European history when the New World was discovered. I’m sure you know a few famous Italian explorers, but do you know who discovered what or what are their biggest accomplishments?

If I say “Marco” and you say “Polo”, we can play a game, but Marco Polo is actually a very famous Italian merchant and explorer, who followed the Silk Road to Asia. Sailing through the mighty seas, driven by the desire to find new trading grounds, these Italian explorers became famous by discovering new lands. 

Famous Italian explorers, Giovanni da Verrazzano - The Proud Italian
Image of Giovanni da Verrazzano from Encyclopedia Britannica

Giovanni da Verrazzano

This Florentine born 1485, near Tuscany, Italy is one of the Italian explorers who made history in the Age of Discovery. Joining the maritime service allowed him to be part of many voyages on the French merchant ships in the Mediterranean. As he became more skillful he gained the needed knowledge to command his own voyage.

Giovanni da Verrazzano routes set sail from Madeira Islands off the coast of Portugal. His exploration of the New World led him to present-day known Cape Fear, North Carolina. Exploring most of the North American East coast led him to reach present-day New York, becoming the first European to set foot on New York land.

And yes the longest bridge in Western Hemisphere, providing a connection from New York to Staten Island and Brooklyn, The Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge is named after this Italian explorer.

Although what Giovanni da Verrazzano did discover was of great importance, it seems that his discoveries are often overshadowed by the accomplishments of other explorers. 

Famous Italian explorers, Amerigo Vespucci - The Proud Italian

Amerigo Vespucci

Born in 1454, in Florence, Italy, as a young man he was taking a great interest in books and maps, which helped him acquire critical knowledge of seafaring, like cartography and astronomy. In his forties, he goes on his first sails. And in one of his voyages, he makes history. 

Following the exploration of the Italian explorers, can you guess what Amerigo Vespucci accomplished?

America… Amerigo, can you see where I’m going with this? America got the name from this Italian explorer, even though he wasn’t the first to set foot on this continent. It is believed that this is the Italian explorer who discovered America. 

Amerigo Vespucci’s discoveries were accompanied by many controversies, as scholars and historians debate whether he became famous on other explorer’s discoveries, mostly whether he took the glory from Columbus.

So what was Amerigo Vespuccis’s goal? Probably we can say that his goal was to map the New World and to determine whether the lands that Columbus discovered were part of Asia or if it was a new land entirely, ergo South and North America.

This Italian navigator was well-educated and beside his biggest accomplishment, giving the name of the American continent, he also developed a method for determining longitude.

Famous Italian explorers, replica of Santa Maria Boat - The Proud Italian

Christopher Columbus (Cristoforo Colombo)

This is probably the world’s most famous Italian in history. Born in Genoa, Italy, inspired by Marco Polo’s book he fell in love with the exploration adventures.

By historians, he was painted as the “discoverer” of America, but that’s not entirely true. He simply set a pathway for European exploration and colonization of the already discovered new lands, America.

Commanding the Santa Maria ship he made the first trip across the Atlantic Ocean. When he set foot on the island of Cuba, he actually believed that he was in China. As he believed he was in a totally different part of the world as we know it now, thinking he was in the Indies, the first native people he met, he gave them the name “Indians”.

Through his journeys, Columbus explored many islands naming them after his ship, king and queen: La Isla de Santa Maria de Concepción, Fernandina and Isabella, as his trip was sponsored by Spanish King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella.

Historically, by some he was seen as a hero, for others he was overly ambitious with a big ego. Nevertheless, too ambitious or not, Columbus accomplished a lot, sailing to places that others had no heart to go. Drew a new world map and left a journal with a description of the native people, geography and plant life of the then unknown places.

“Following the light of the sun, we left the Old World.” – Christopher Columbus

Italian explorers who discovered the New World - The Proud Italian

John Cabot (Giovanni Caboto)

John Cabot or in Italian Giovanni Caboto, was a Venetian navigator and explorer who was actually the first European to discover the coast of North America. Sailing in the name of the English crown, he made great geographical discoveries.  

He thought, much like Columbus, that if they sailed west from Europe that they would find a shorter route to Asia. Instead, he landed on the east coast of North America.  

The land that he discovered, he named Newfoundland and gave England its first claim of territory overseas. This land is believed to be the territory of today’s Canada.

Little is known about Cabot’s second expedition across the Atlantic because after he set sail he was never heard from again.

Even though there isn’t much written in the history of John Cabot, he still was a memorable explorer with great accomplishments.

Columbus and Cabot are often linked in the history books, but do you know the answer to this trivia question: How were the explorations of John Cabot and Christopher Columbus similar? 

No? Maybe? 

Well, I can help you so you can rock on the next trivia game. The answer is: Both were the commissioned explorers.

Italian explorer who discovered America - The Proud Italian

You can be proud of these few famous Italian explorers who conquered the world, but there are others that are worth mentioning. So, who were the most famous explorers of the renaissance?

Aside from the mentioned above, others who fearlessly sailed across mighty seas were: Ferdinand Magellan, Marco Polo, Ponce de Leon, Vasco Núñez de Balboa, Hernando de Soto and many more.

“I resolved to abandon trade and to fix my aim on something more praiseworthy and stable; whence it was that I made preparation for going to see part of the world and its wonders.” – Amerigo Vespucci