Famous Italian Explorers

When researching famous Italian explorers, we didn't come across a large number of names. Of course, people from the Italian peninsula have set sail for other lands since the beginning of time, but not many of their names have been recorded in the history books.

Instead, the Italians honor only a few men as their country's finest explorers. But if you live in a Western country, you'll recognize the names instantly. Here are three of the most famous:


Marco Polo [1254-1324]

famous italian explorers 1Marco Polo was born in Venice, northern Italy, around 1254. The son of a trader, Marco didn't meet his father until he was fifteen. Two years later, he accompanied his father and uncle to China, where he remained for the next 20 years.

When Marco arrived back in Venice in 1295, he enthralled his fellow citizens with extraordinary tales of his adventures. During the war against Genoa, he was taken prisoner and spent two years in jail. Here he came up the idea of writing a book, and The Million, later named The Travels of Marco Polo, was the result.

While later critics have cast doubt on the veracity of his writings, they have never been disproved. Polo's adventures inspired later explorers, including Christopher Columbus, to set sail for undiscovered lands.


Christopher Columbus (1451-1506]

famous italian explorers 2Christopher Columbus was born Cristoforo Colombo in Genoa, northern Italy, in 1451. Because of his voyages to North America, which opened up the 'new world' to European colonization, he is arguably the most famous explorer in history. In many quarters he is also one of the most vilified.

In his youth, Columbus was a pirate, but was later driven by an ambition to reach India and China by sailing westward. He first approached the King of Portugal to sponsor an exploratory voyage but was turned down. King Ferdinand of Spain, after rejecting his proposal in 1486, eventually agreed to fund the voyage six years later.

Columbus first made landfall in the Bahamas and explored other islands in the Caribbean, spending the winter there before returning to Spain. The dramatic story of his rise and fall has been the subject of many books and films, but regardless of arguments for and against his decisions and their consequences, his impact on history is profound.

Columbus's journeys to the New World allowed Spain to lay claim to Central and South America, and changed the course of European history.


John Cabot [1450-1498]

famous italian explorers 3John Cabot was born Giovanni Caboto in Genoa, northern Italy, around 1450. His family moved to Venice when he was a child, and he later worked for a Venetian merchant, traveling to Arabia and becoming an accomplished seaman in the process. Like his contemporary, Christopher Columbus, he entertained an ambition to find a western sea route to the Orient.

The family moved to London in 1484, and at some point anglicized their names. Twelve years later, the King of England commissioned Cabot to sail westward in search of new worlds. In 1497 he landed in Labrador, in what was to become Canada, thereby becoming the first modern European to set foot on the North American mainland. After returning to England with news of his success, he was granted permission for a second voyage, from which he never returned.

His 1497 voyage enabled Britain to lay claim to the North American continent.