Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Local Boy's New World Adventure

The ghost of Giovanni da Verrazzano is haunting me. This evening, while skimming Jean Etèvenaux's Les Grandes Heures de Lyon (20o5), I fell upon another mention of the new-to-me story of Verrazzano christening New York "La Nouvelle-Angoulême" (see my previous post). I gleaned an additional bit of information from Etèvenaux's brief version. It appears Giovanni was from a Florentine family that had established itself in Lyon, of all places; it was from Lyon that the explorer had sought François I's patronage in 1522. Who would have guessed?

I did a little Googling and found more details on Verrazzano's page at The Mariners' Museum. It claims that circumstantial evidence (the lack of any mention of Giovanni's birth in the records of the Florentine Verrazzanos and the marriage of a certain Giovanna to Allessandro di Bartolommeo da Verrazzano in 1480 at Lyon) points to Lyon as Giovanni's probable birthplace. More interesting still, with regard to the 1524 voyage, the article claims: 

With the accumulated knowledge and information gathered by Cabot and other explorers who went before him, Verrazzano made his plans and preparations for his own expedition. In 1523, letters were written concerning the efforts of a group of Florentine bankers and merchants, living in Lyons, to organize financial support for a voyage led by Verrazzano. Interested in finding a source for silk for the textile factories of Lyon, these backers were among the wealthiest and most influential families in France, and are among those linked by marriage to Verrazzano. The support of the king, Francois I, was also necessary for the venture, but there are no written records of a royal commission. It must have been given in some form however, because on returning from the first voyage, Verrazzano made his report directly to the king.

To think that this important voyage to the New World, which produced the first written descriptions of the landscape and the native peoples, was financed by the silk merchants of Lyon! (I think there's a story here, just waiting to be told...Book 3, perhaps?)

To honor its local adventurer, the city of Lyon named a square in the northern part of the city Place Giovanni da Verrazzano. The explorer is also one of the twenty-five famous Lyonnais featured on the seven-storey wall mural at the corner of the rue de la Martinère and quai de la Pècherie (more on Lyon's murals in a later post).

(Be sure to read the entire Verrazzano entry at The Mariners' Museum and explore the museum's fascinating website.)

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