Sunday, April 17, 2016

From Brooklyn to Greve

Did you know that 490 years ago today on April 17, 1524, Florentine Giovanni da Verrazzano discovered New York Harbor. His legacy lives on not only in navigational history, but close to the hearts of Italian-Americans who grew up in New York City. I was one of them, who growing up in Brooklyn along the waterfront, spent my childhood playing in what became the shadow of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and watched the mysterious structure emerging from the water as it was being built over the course of 5 years.

Since the bridge was such a monumental neighborhood icon, the story of Verrazzano was an essential component of our historic tutelage. For us as kids, Verrazzano was the man who allowed us to travel between Brooklyn (the city)and Staten Island (the country!) via car instead of ferryboat. Today I live only miles from his birthplace near Greve-in-Chianti, where his statue dominates the main piazza and his memory lives on.

Verrazzano was born in a beautiful castle on the Chianti road, a quick ride from Florence on the way to Greve. The castle claims a daunting position on a hill surrounded by magnificent vineyards which produce a well-known Chianti Classico. The castle changed hands to the Ridolfi and then the Cappellini Family after the death of Verrazzano’s last descendent. His family also lived part time in their Florentine home on Via Ghibellina.

Verrazzano’s navigational career was inspired by his family who encouraged and schooled him to sail. His dream was to discover the shortest route to Asia and in 1522 he transferred to France where King Francesco I set him asail to discover a passageway. It was his first voyage during which he discovered New York Harbor, but did not succeed in finding the dreamed-of passageway.

In 1528, several voyages later, he anchored at a Caribbean island where he met his unfortunate death, being captured, killed and eaten by a cannibalistic Indian tribe. That story was psychologically difficult for us 5th graders to accept, and gave rise to nightmares I had of Verrazano resurrecting from the waters under his bridge!