HOW WAS THAT COLUMBUS DISCOVERED AMERICA
By Joan Fortea
After the discovery of America Columbus was discredited and accused of having fooled the king of Catalonia asserting that he, Columbus, could open a sea route to China sailing to the West from Europe if the king provided him with some few caravels. The following arguments would show that Columbus never could lay down such proposal and that Ferdinand II Trastámara could never accept it if that was the proposal. The revealing fact to support these arguments is that Columbus, when departing from Europe to cross the Western Ocean, sailed first far southwards instead of putting direct course to the west.
To better present the case, it is convenient to start by recalling some of the circumstances prevailing at that time.
In 1479, the Iberian Peninsula was shared by the countries of Portugal, of Granada, of Navarre, of Catalonia, of Andorra and of Castile. This year, to put an end to the war of succession to the throne of Castile between the Castilian supporters of Isabel Trastámara, sister of the late King Henry IV, and the Portuguese supporters of Juana Trastámara, daughter of Henry IV, the king of Portugal, the aspirant Isabel Trastámara and, surprisingly enough, the king of Catalonia signed at Portugal the treaty of Alcáçovas. Juana was not present. By this treaty, the Portuguese king accepted Isabel as queen of Castile while the king of Catalonia accepted that the Catalan ships could no longer navigate down to the Cape Verde Islands nor further south.
With the Treaty of Alcáçovas the king of Portugal ensured that the Catalan ships would no longer compete in his plans to reach Guinea, the country of the gold mines, and China, the silk country. This last possibility had already appeared at the Muslim mappings of that time and, in fact, the Portuguese ships made it true in 1513.
The obstacle that the Alcáçovas Treaty meant for the Catalan trade did not matter to Ferdinand II Trastámara, king traitor to his people. We should know that Castile, without a significant merchant fleet, was not a threat for Portugal on the maritime routes in the Western Ocean, but the well-developed Catalan maritime trade was indeed a serious one. From the late fourteenth century Catalonia built caravels and had expanded its traditional Mediterranean trade to Flanders, the British Isles, the Baltic, Iceland and the African Western coast. In 1350 the Catalan Francesc Desvaler had settled a mission at the Canary Islands, wherefrom the Catalans brought into Europe the valuable orchil lichen, out of which the purple textile dye is obtained. The purple color on clothing was the most appreciated one in Europe since Phoenician times (the catholic cardinals receive still nowadays from the pope a clothing in purple color to state publicly the testimony of its very high dignity, second only to the pope himself).
The caravels were vessels of brand new technology characterized both in that they could sail to windward, in that they provided a high load capacity and in that they needed no rowers. These features suited them especially well for the otherwise not viable long lasting offshore sailing. The caravels required, however, an unusual skill to be governed.
The skilled cartographers in the Fifteenth Century knew beyond any doubt that the Earth is round like a ball (1) and that the circumference of the Earth’s sphere is 40,000 km (2). We can easily realize that these facts were not known by the general population, but we have to admit that they had to be known by specialized people. In fact, already in the second century before our era Crates of Mallus had worked out the first known globe representing our planet, depicting with acceptable accuracy the position and relative size of Europe and the Northern and North-Eastern African coast, as well as the South Western Asian coast, while assigning phantom lands to the Southern hemisphere.
On the other hand, thanks to the intense trade that Muslim ships kept through the Indic Ocean between African and East Asian countries, the Muslim cartographers knew that the width of the Eurasian continent from west to east covers some 13,500 km.
Therefore, it was possible, and easy for certain cartographers, to estimate that the distance to travel from Europe westwards to the Eastern coast of Asia had to be some 26,500 km, supposedly out of an open sea. The Florentine cartographer Raffaele Toscanelli performed in 1474 an estimation of this type for the King Alfonso V of Portugal. But neither the king of Portugal nor any other king could make use of this information as no ship, not even the recently developed caravels, could sail 26,500 km offshore catered with the necessary logistics.
At the same time, since the Muslim occupation of the peninsula, there was the legend about the Island of Antillia, of indeterminate dimensions, located somewhere in the Western Ocean. According to this legend, the island was inhabited by an archbishop of Porto, accompanied by six bishops and many Christian families who were fleeing for refuge from the Saracen invasion. This island had been sought by some Portuguese expeditions that either did not return or when returning had not found it. At the end of the Fifteenth century Antillia continued appearing in the Portuguese and Barcelonese cartography.
In addition, since 1342 (Christian chronology) there was a chronicle written by Al-Umari (1301-1349), entitled “Al-Absar Masalik Fi Mamalik Al-Amsar” (Roadways for those who look and are searching into the lands of the kingdoms) reporting that a ship sailing westwards from the empire of Mali, did in fact reach a land across the Western Ocean and returned to Mali thereafter.
Now it comes that a number of European and American researchers, like Jordi Bilbeny, Luis de Ulloa Cisneros, Charles F. Merrill and others mean that the mysteriously disappeared character behind the name of Christophorus Columbus corresponds to the Jewish Admiral of the Catalan fleet Joan Colom Bertran, born at Barcelona in 1424, experienced seafarer having led his ships to distant places as Iceland, the Canary Islands or the Baltic Sea. In the Middle Ages (and until the nineteenth century) was not uncommon to put the names of important people in Latin, as for instance Niklas Koppernigk, who became Nicolaus Copernicus. The translation of Colom into Latin is ‘columba’ and the obvious Latin translation of the family name Colom for a man is “Columbus”. The reason why the real first name was officially changed from Johannes to Christophorus may be related to a deep endeavor to also disguise Colom’s Jewish origin.
A skilled seafarer, as Colom was, would realize that, since the land discovered at the occident of Mali was achievable by the Muslim ships and that one succeeded in sailing back, it could impossibly belong to the Oriental Asian coast, known to lie at the unattainable distance of 26,500 km far west from Mali. Colom could nevertheless figure that the Al-Umari chronicle hinted, to an acceptable degree of certainty, where he could find Antillia.
At the tenth chapter, Al-Umari reported that in 1324 (Christian chronology), when Mansa Musa was visiting Cairo on his pilgrimage to Mecca, the sultan Al-Nassir Mohamed asked him how he became the Mali emperor. The answer was the following:
“The ruler who preceded me did not believe that it was impossible to reach the extremity of the ocean that encircles the earth (meaning the Atlantic). He wanted to reach that (end) and was determined to pursue his plan. So he equipped 200 boats full of men and many others full of gold, water and provisions sufficient for several years. He ordered the captain not to return until they had reached the other end of the ocean, or until he had exhausted the provisions and water. So they set out on their journey. They were absent for a long period, and, at last just one boat returned. When questioned, the captain replied: ‘O Prince, we navigated for a long period, until we saw in the midst of the ocean a great river flowing massively. My boat was the last one; others were ahead of me, and they were drowned in the great whirlpool and never came out again. I sailed back to escape this current’. But the Sultan would not believe him. He ordered 2,000 boats to be equipped for him and his men, and 1,000 more for water and provisions. Then he conferred the regency on me for the term of his absence, and departed with his men, never to return or give a sign of life. And so I became the only governor of the empire”
- This English version of the Arabic original has been taken from internet, where this author has found two different but highly coincident English translations.
- The seafaring sultan is not named by Al-Umari, but modern historians identify him as Abu-Bakr II.
- Mansa Musa (Emperor Moses) is also known as Musa I, or Kanka Musa, or Kanku Musa (Moses the son of Kanka or Kanku; Kanka or Kanku being the name of the mother).
- The description of the wide mouth of a large river which flows massively into the sea producing dangerous eddies, corresponds to what is still the mouth of the Amazon River.
- The coast of the Mali Empire stretched from southern Morocco to Sierra Leone. Inside the continent, the empire included Timbuktu and Gao, the towns where the Guinea gold caravans had to pay tribute to the Malian emperor. The gold trade from Guinea was the main source of gold to Europe before the American gold arrived. Abu-Bakr II is reputed to be the richest man ever, with a personal wealth estimated to $ 400 billion. The information about he having chartered hundreds of ships to cross the Western Ocean does not sound so far-fetched.
- The Emperor Kankan Musa with crown and scepter and a sphere in hand, the three objects in gold, is depicted on the Mali territory at the celebrated Catalan Atlas of 1375, by Abraham and Jefudà Cresques, Jewish cartographers from Palma, Majorca.
- Maybe that the Roman or Phoenician remains said to have been found in South America did arrive with the second Malian expedition.
The Muslim culture was something outlawed to Christians. A good example was given by the bishop Ximénez, who after the conquest of Cordova in 1236 by Christian troops gave the order to burn down the town’s library which, with 600,000 volumes, was the largest one in the world. But amongst the Jews there was no problem in taking part of the Muslim science. Thus, the Muslim Eurasian and African mapping at the Middle Ages was unknown by the Christians who still stated that the Earth is flat, but was well known by the European Jewish cartographers. This set of circumstances would explain why the Jews at Barcelona, Mallorca and Portugal were the highest authority in cartography within the Christian Europe and that, accordingly, the Jew cartographers at Barcelona, at least, might be aware of the Al-Umari report. Then, the Jew Joan Colom, Admiral of the Catalan fleet and well-prepared navigator, would have known of it, would have understood its geographical consequences, and would have conceived to undertake the adventure of his life.
Colom might have known the technical features of the fourteenth century Malian ships and, consequently, the maximal performances they might yield during an offshore sailing. Then, knowing to a certain degree the velocity they might achieve, which was the capacity to load food and that the food lasted to sail back, he could have deduced, assuming not necessarily extreme conditions, that the returning ship might have covered some 6.000 km on its whole trip.
Thereafter, he could have conjectured that the land to which the Malian ship arrived after some 3000 km west off Mali would be the mythical Antillia. That distance of 3000 km was already available to the caravels. These large cargo ships could store enough food for the crew during the intrepid 3000 km offshore trip.
It should be realized that Colom had to be aware that Ferdinand II, before investing money in what was a blatantly risky trip, ought to ask the opinion of the best available cartographers, who never would hide to him that not even the caravels could cover the known 26,500 km offshore expedition up to China. Therefore Colom, if he really wanted to make the expedition to Antillia, in no way could have forwarded the impossible, long journey of 26,500 km to the Eastern coast of Asia, because the result would have been that the king would have thrown him out from the court not to receive him ever more.
The proposal that Colom brought forward to the Catalan king had to be to reach the mysterious Antillia, showing to him and his advisors that there was a documented possibility of it being possible if sailing with caravels the attainable distance of 3000 km westwards from the coast of the Mali Empire, which was luckily placed at a latitude still accesible to the Catalan ships without infringing the Alcáçovas Treaty,. As this proposal involved, in any case, a very high financial risk, Colom would have had to submit it along with enough reliable credentials to show that he had the necessary skill to succeed in the attempt and, also, along with nautical estimates showing to a reasonable degree that the mythical island could be found. Otherwise the unconscious irresponsible in the story should not be Colom, but Ferdinand II Trastámara, who could be anything but an unconscious irresponsible.
These two conditions, that Colom would be a skilled caravel captain and that he would be able to make and show reliable nautical calculations, should have been decisive for the advisors before reporting favorably to Ferdinand II to invest money in so obviously risky adventure, an adventure where several Portuguese expeditions had already failed. Therefore, the fact of the king’s advisors getting convinced and the fact of the king himself becoming persuaded to put money on Colom’s proposal should show that Colom could not be the Genovese wool merchant promoted by Mussolini, since a wool merchant would not have succeeded in the necessarily scrupulous nautical examination that he would have to undergo before being entrusted with the financial investment required for the risky adventure of 6,000 unknown km offshore sailing. Otherwise, we have to insist, the unconscious irresponsible involved in the adventure should not be Colom but Ferdinand II, who otherwise is reputed to have been the ruthless, cunning and sly Prince from which Machiavelli took the model to write his famous work.
Inasmuch as from Antillia to the known coast of Western Asia there would still remain an ocean crossing of some additional 23,500 km, still unattainable by those caravels, one cannot believe that the word “China” would ever arise from Colom’s side during the talks.
One has to notice, as well, that the insistence in making the expedition to Antillia had to belong to a brave heart, because the same evidence establishing that a ship returned also established that three thousand nine hundred ninety nine ships did not succeed, Colom must have been aware of the risk he was assuming in his purpose of finding Antillia.
The need to trim down the risks related to the expedition to Antillia is the reason why Colom, once sailing from Europe, sailed southwards to somewhere between La Gomera and the Cape Verde Islands instead of heading to the west directly from the Gibraltar Strait. The two current assumptions made so far to justify this detour southwards are:
- That he wanted to cater his caravel in the Catalan territory of La Gomera before jumping over the ocean (all the food for the crew in the three caravels was wisely stored by Colom in the caravel that he commanded).
- That he intended to make use of the oceanic marine currents and dominant winds to make easier the sailing over the Western Ocean.
The first suggestion, leaving aside the fact that he catered indeed food in La Gomera, loses strength if one realizes that this nautical diversion increased the distance to be sailed up to Antillia in 1.300 km, from 3.000 to 4.300 km (43% increase, with the corresponding wear of ships and sailors), to get simply at some poor 100 km distance off the mainland.
The second suggestion could not be determinant to the experienced Admiral, because such marine currents and dominant winds by the African coast had to be taken as local data, while no nautical data on the long run to sail across the high seas of the immense ocean was available.
The reason why Colom sailed so distinctly southwards up to somewhere between the Cape Verde and the Canary Islands has to be that he regarded it as the necessary condition to hit the still uncertain land of Antillia. Sailing past that island of unknown size might mean getting astray in the vast Western Ocean and death. Consequently, Colom had to include in his plans the compulsory condition of undertaking the westwards navigation out from a position as close as possible to the harbor wherefrom the first Malian expedition was supposed to have set sail and where the returning ship touched back shore. In the Al-Umari chronicle there was the hint that Antillia, whatever size it had, would be found more or less in front of that harbor.
Once off the coast of the Empire of Mali, Colom finally dared to venture west to cross the Western Ocean to find the expected Antillia, just the name he gave to the island that he found after sailing some 3000 km.
At the following transoceanic sailings Colom went on jumping to the west from off the coast of the Mali Empire because it is wiser to take the known, safe route to the Antillias instead of running still unknown and unnecessary risks.
As it can be seen in the world map of the Portuguese cartographer Domingos Teixeira, dated 1573, the settlements in America along the following decennia were made by, and belonged to, Catalonia. But then came the Castilian putsch against Catalonia, performed by Charles I (who, amongst other reasons, needed the Catalan wealth of America to finance the religious wars in Central Europe), transforming the American discovery and colonization into Castilian deeds.
Since then the Castilian authorities have been devoted to eliminate and, if not, adulterate and falsify, all documents attesting or else related with the Catalan nationality of both Colom and the discovery and initial colonization of the new world. A funny, and revealing hint, is that the Castilian version still asserts that Colom set sail from the harbor of Palos in the province of Huelva (South-western Andalusia, in Castile). Such official version has said sometimes that the harbor was Palos de Moguer, again in Huelva. But neither the port of Palos nor the port of Palos de Moguer have ever existed. What there exist in Huelva are the inland villages of Palos de la Frontera, some 30 km north to the coast, by the Pinto River which has a depth of some 30 cm, and Moguer, some three kilometers north of Palos de la Frontera. On the pilot books (maps that show the ports and coastal landmarks that the captain of a ship could expect to find along a shore) of the epoch no harbor is mentioned with the name of Palos or Palos de Moguer; nevertheless, in these pilot books the harbor of Pals is mentioned on the coast of Girona (Catalonia). At the end of the fifteenth century Pals was known for building caravels in its shipyards.
The following kings of Spain after Charles I removed Catalonia and the Catalans carefully from the history of America. Furthermore, the Catalans were forbidden (until 1778) to trade with the new continent and were even forbidden to tread American ground under penalty of summary execution on the spot.
The Catalan names of things, of people and of many places were replaced with Castilian names; historically crucial Columbian texts were wiped out from particular, monastic or public libraries, or else were substituted with translations to the Castilian language, including, naive catalanisms as for instance “era de hora” (‘it was of hour’, in Catalan “era d’hora”) instead of “era temprano” (‘it was early in the morning’). Castile seized eventually the Catalan Aymèrica. All the merits of the discoveries and colonization’s of the new world were ascribed to Castile, country of predaceous tradition that never before had the initiative to navigate and trade and that still has not acquired.
From the few evidences left over after the thoroughly performed falsification of the history, it can be gathered that Colom realized that next to the Antillias there was a continent, to which he gave the name of Aymèrica in acknowledgment to his companion Aymerich Despuig (its Catalan pronunciation is “Aymeric Despuch”).
From Castile has been said that the idea to give the name of “America” to the new continent corresponds to Vautrin Lud, Mathias Ringmann, Martin Waldseemüller and Jean Basin because in their work Cosmographiae Introductio, supposedly dated 1507, they used this name for the first time to refer to the new continent. The authors used the name ‘America’ in recognition to the Florentine Amerigo Vespucci because “we see nothing to prevent reasonably to call it the ‘Land of Amerigo’ after the name of its great discoverer, or simply America because Europe and Asia have also received their names out of women”.
Please notice, however, that Amerigo Vespucci is not the discoverer of America. Furthermore, examining the planisphere that accompanies the text wherefrom this citation has been taken, one realizes that the land to which Lud, Ringmann, Waldseemüller and Basin gave the name of America was not the continent, but the Patagonia, whose eastern shores Amerigo Vespucci claimed to have visited (although modern researchers are of the opinion that Amerigo never sailed or mapped).
In another version it is stated that Amerigo is the first cartographer to ‘realize’ (also sometimes they say ‘show’) that the American islands and continent were not part of Eastern Asia “as Colom had always meant”, but that instead they formed a separate continent hitherto unknown to Europeans.
However, in light of the arguments above about Colom and other skilled cartographers knowing beyond any doubt that Asia’s Eastern coast is at a distance of 26,500 km west off Europe/Africa, one has to understand that the claim about Vespucci having been the first to ‘realize’ that the new land, at 3000 km west off Europe, was not part of the eastern coast of Asia is naively stupid, because Colom, who necessarily had to master the art of navigation using the quadrant, the astrolabe and some other tool to get the position of the ship on a map of meridians, had to be the first one to realize that he had sailed 3,000 km and not 26.500 km until reaching Antillia. Between the distance of 26,500 km and 3,000 km there is such a disproportionate difference (at least in the consumption of the stored food) that a naval officer, familiar with navigation instruments, could never make the mistake of believing that he had sailed 26,500 kilometers when it really had sailed 3,000 km.
Consequently, in view of the fact that the estimated position of the discovered Antillia was visibly placed at the very great distance indeed of some 23.500 km eastwards off the known, well-established Asian Oriental coast, the skilled cartographer that lead the caravels up to Antillia, and that had to lead them back to Europe, has to be the first cartographer to realize that this land could not be and was not a part of the Asian Oriental coast.
It must be noticed too, that modern researchers agree in that the few extant writings attributed to Amerigo describing his travels show so many deficiencies, are so imprecise, and incorporate errors that are so basic that cannot be but inventions, although not necessarily made by the same Amerigo.
Moreover, Amerigo was later appointed to professor at the naval school in Seville. Due to this fact, we have got an opportune testimony about the lack of nautical aptitude of this Amerigo, for It is documented that the pilots of the school rebelled against him because they felt humiliated having to be examined by a person “without own experience in navigation”. If Amerigo had no own experience in navigation, he could not have sailed to America. What is more, according to current experts, the astronomical positioning techniques that Amerigo was teaching in the school of navigation at Seville are essentially useless. If Amerigo’s astronomical positioning techniques are essentially useless, the mapping of the new continent said to be drawn by the own Amerigo must be a copy of Colom’s mappings.
At the writings attributed to Amerigo there is no reference to how many expeditions he made, and no document of the epoch mentions any expedition of Amerigo. His personal and historical merit could be as simple as to have had a name tolerably similar to Aymerich.
The role officially attributed to Amerigo makes sense if one admits that it is a part of the Castilian forged material to remove Colom and the Catalans out of the discovery and colonization of Aymèrica.
Getting back to Cosmographiae Introductio, a hint about it being a fraud comes from the fact that in earlier maps that have been preserved out of the control of the Habsburg monarchs, like those by Luis Lazaro (1563), or by Domingos Teixeira (1573), or by Sebastiaõ Lopes (1583), or by Luis Teixeira (1600) (all of them can be found with Google), the property on the whole new continent is attributed to the kingdom of Catalonia, while in the planisphere of Cosmographiae Introductio, dated as if it were made in 1507, all the continent is ostentatiously attributed to Castile. From these facts we ought to deduce that the actual date on which the Cosmographiae Introductio was prepared should be, at least, posterior to 1600 (the date in Luis Teixeira’s map), and never 1507 and that this work is part of the forgery instrumented by the kings of Castile to delete the kingdom of Catalonia from Aymèrica. The need to explain a not-Columbian etymology of the name “America” also indicates that the Columbian name of Aymèrica was already established in the mapping of the sixteenth century. Perhaps the Columbian name ‘Aymèrica’ had already become ‘America’, according to a phonetic evolution similar to that leading to the disappearance of the first ‘i’ in Austrialia or to the disappearance of the second ‘i’ in Antillia.
We can realize in the maps of America of the 16th century that were under Castilian control that the red-and-yellow strips at the Catalan flags and coats of arms painted on such maps were either over-painted in other colors, such as blue and red, or else the symbols of Castile were painted right over them, or else were adulterated in any other way (see the highly revealing map compilation by Enric Guillot in Catalan Discovery and Conquest of America: A History Rewritten by the Castilians, Librooks 2012).
The unreliable Cosmographiae Introductio is also officially said to be the first map where America is represented separated from Asia.
But this assertion is a coarse error, because the case is that in the Cantino planisphere (at least 1502) and in that of Caverio (1504), or in the universal map of Contarini Roselli (1506), or in the Ptolemaic map printed in1375 by Leinhart Holle and in the map or Martin Behaim of 1492 (all of them can be found with Google) becomes clear that Asia has a well characterized east coast.
Now, if Asia has a well characterized oriental coast and if Aymèrica is placed some 23,500 miles before reaching such Asiatic oriental coast, this new land must by force have a western coast that has to be compulsorily separated from the known –and really far distant- oriental coast of Asia. Therefore, Colom’s maps depicted America necessarily separated from Asia.
One cannot understand that serious researchers accept without objective analysis such inaccurate facts as those outlined above, forged facts that seem to be aimed to discredit, or else deny, Colom’s sailing proficiency, telling us that Colom believed that he was setting sail from Europe to China and that Colom, when touching shore, thought that he had reached Asia. Should Colom be so unqualified in the art of navigation, he could hardly been able to return from the first trip and hardly ever he would have been trusted the following expeditions.
Finally, the quite unusual fact that in the 21st century the Madrid government does not allow the access to the historical archives of 500 years ago, the archives of the 15th and 16th centuries, critical to the history of the discovery and colonization of America, keeping them inaccessible even to historians, can be understood if one assumes that they contain documents as Colom’s inexplicably missing original papers, as for instance his logbooks, or his letters and maps, as well as other documents that, by real orders, were seized from private and monastic libraries, as for instance the chronicle written by Bertomeu Casaus, whose Catalan name was transformed into the Castilian one of Bartolomé de las Casas.
The reasons why this historically significant Spanish documentary wealth, from the centuries of the discovery and initial colonization of Aymèrica, must be concealed even to historians ought to be because said documentary assemblage discovers and proves that Castile did never had any role in the discovery and first colonization of the Aymèrican continent and because said ‘Spain’ is still only Castile.
(1) From Sumerian times the astronomers knew that the lunar eclipses are due to the interposition of the Earth between the sun and the moon. Since the Earth projects a circular shadow on the moon, the Earth’s shape is round, but given that the shadow is always circular, regardless of the Earth’s relative position to the moon, the Earth is round like a ball and not like a disk.
(2) This value, within an error less than 1%, was estimated by Eratosthenes of Cyrene during the third century before our era; the equator’s real length is 40.075 km.
Summary of original sources:
- Google search.
- Jordi Bilbeny. Totes les preguntes sobre Cristòfor Colom. Llibres de l’Índex 2003
- Enric Guillot. Catalan Discovery and Conquest of America: A History Rewritten by the Castilians. Librooks 2012.
- Luis Ulloa y Cisneros. Cristòfor Colom fou català. La veritable gènesi del descobriment. Editorial Base, 2006.
- Felipe Torroba Bernaldo de Quirós. Los judíos españoles. Sucesores de Rivadeneyra, 1967.