National Geographic : 1992 Jan
years later, in 1509, when Columbus's bro ther Bartholomew gave his nephew Ferdi nand an instruction book on handwriting; possibly Christopher and Bartholomew had used it as youngsters. Recent study of Colum bus's papers by noted handwriting expert Charles Hamilton strongly suggests that he learned to write while young. Columbus may have acquired the rudi ments of Latin -a language he later used widely, if imperfectly-in Genoa. It appears, however, that he was only semiliterate; cer tainly he did not then learn to write Genoese. His Genoese heritage helped greatly to shape Columbus and his view of the world. I took a taxi to the best place from which to see Genoa, its hilltop citadel, the Castelletto. From that vantage point one can grasp the Rich, powerful Genoese men needed Columbus-and he needed them. The ancestors ofGiannetto Fieschi (left) rented a house to the Colum bus family; years later, Christopher hired a Fieschi to command a transatlantic caravel. Wine maker Paolo Spinola (above) descends from a family of shipowners who once engaged Christo pher as a commercial agent. So did Giacomo Centurione Scotto's family, who con trolled one of Genoa's most prominent and prosperous merchant banks. nature of the city and the destiny of her people: Compressed between surrounding hills and the shore, Genoa spills down to the Ligurian Sea. Blocked in by such power ful rival cities as Milan and Florence and with little fertile hinterland, the people of Genoa were forced to seek their livelihood upon the Mediterranean Sea. In the 15th century the Republic of Genoa was a lively, turbulent place, its atmosphere harsh but stimulating. The Genoese had no king, but selected powerful men as doges to rule them. Sporadic warfare between promi nent families often led to bloodshed. Throughout his life Columbus displayed many of the same traits as his fellow Genoese. They were a stubborn, acquisitive people, prospering through hard work and thrift, dili gent in details, jealous of time. They created business enterprises far beyond the confines of their city. As Columbus himself would be come, the Genoese were true cosmopolitans. They often married abroad and learned other languages, coexisting readily with other peoples. During the late Middle Ages, trade from Genoa expanded rapidly into nearby Corsica, Sardinia, and Sicily (map, page 21); Genoese merchants sought the wheat, salt, wine, and wool of Iberia. They spread through western Europe and the Levant and built trading centers near Constantinople, on the Black Sea, and on the Greek island of Chios. They traded on the Danube and in Kiev. At Tunis, an entrepOt in northern Africa, they traded for gold. As Columbus him self said, "Genoese... and all the people who have pearls, precious stones and other valuable things, take them to the end of the earth ... to convert them into gold." Gold was, for the Genoese, the ultimate store of wealth.