The Most Famous

EXPLORERS from Italy

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This page contains a list of the greatest Italian Explorers. The pantheon dataset contains 405 Explorers, 16 of which were born in Italy. This makes Italy the birth place of the 9th most number of Explorers behind Germany and Norway.

Top 10

The following people are considered by Pantheon to be the top 10 most legendary Italian Explorers of all time. This list of famous Italian Explorers is sorted by HPI (Historical Popularity Index), a metric that aggregates information on a biography’s online popularity. Visit the rankings page to view the entire list of Italian Explorers.

Photo of Marco Polo

1. Marco Polo (1254 - 1324)

With an HPI of 95.23, Marco Polo is the most famous Italian Explorer.  His biography has been translated into 161 different languages on wikipedia.

Marco Polo ( (listen), Venetian: [ˈmaɾko ˈpolo], Italian: [ˈmarko ˈpɔːlo] (listen); September 15, 1254 – January 8, 1324) was a Venetian merchant, explorer, and writer who travelled through Asia along the Silk Road between 1271 and 1295. His travels are recorded in The Travels of Marco Polo (also known as Book of the Marvels of the World and Il Milione, c. 1300), a book that described to Europeans the then mysterious culture and inner workings of the Eastern world, including the wealth and great size of the Mongol Empire and China in the Yuan Dynasty, giving their first comprehensive look into China, Persia, India, Japan and other Asian cities and countries.Born in Venice, Marco learned the mercantile trade from his father and his uncle, Niccolò and Maffeo, who travelled through Asia and met Kublai Khan. In 1269, they returned to Venice to meet Marco for the first time. The three of them embarked on an epic journey to Asia, exploring many places along the Silk Road until they reached Cathay (China). They were received by the royal court of Kublai Khan, who was impressed by Marco's intelligence and humility. Marco was appointed to serve as Khan's foreign emissary, and he was sent on many diplomatic missions throughout the empire and Southeast Asia, such as in present-day Burma, India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Vietnam. As part of this appointment, Marco also traveled extensively inside China, living in the emperor's lands for 17 years and seeing many things that had previously been unknown to Europeans. Around 1291, the Polos also offered to accompany the Mongol princess Kököchin to Persia; they arrived around 1293. After leaving the princess, they travelled overland to Constantinople and then to Venice, returning home after 24 years. At this time, Venice was at war with Genoa; Marco was imprisoned and dictated his stories to Rustichello da Pisa, a cellmate. He was released in 1299, became a wealthy merchant, married, and had three children. He died in 1324 and was buried in the church of San Lorenzo in Venice. Though he was not the first European to reach China (see Europeans in Medieval China), Marco Polo was the first to explore some parts of Asia and to leave a detailed chronicle of his experience. This account of the Orient provided the Europeans with a clear picture of the East's geography and ethnic customs and was the first Western record of porcelain, coal, gunpowder, paper money, and some Asian plants and exotic animals. His travel book inspired Christopher Columbus and many other travellers. There is substantial literature based on Polo's writings; he also influenced European cartography, leading to the introduction of the Fra Mauro map.

Photo of Christopher Columbus

2. Christopher Columbus (1451 - 1506)

With an HPI of 94.24, Christopher Columbus is the 2nd most famous Italian Explorer.  His biography has been translated into 186 different languages.

Christopher Columbus (; born between 25 August and 31 October 1451, died 20 May 1506) was an Italian explorer and navigator who completed four voyages across the Atlantic Ocean, opening the way for the widespread European exploration and colonization of the Americas. His expeditions, sponsored by the Catholic Monarchs of Spain, were the first European contact with the Caribbean, Central America, and South America. The name Christopher Columbus is the Anglicisation of the Latin Christophorus Columbus. Scholars generally agree that Columbus was born in the Republic of Genoa and spoke a dialect of Ligurian as his first language. He went to sea at a young age and travelled widely, as far north as the British Isles and as far south as what is now Ghana. He married Portuguese noblewoman Filipa Moniz Perestrelo and was based in Lisbon for several years, but later took a Castilian mistress; he had one son with each woman. Though largely self-educated, Columbus was widely read in geography, astronomy, and history. He formulated a plan to seek a western sea passage to the East Indies, hoping to profit from the lucrative spice trade. Following Columbus's persistent lobbying to multiple kingdoms, Catholic monarchs Queen Isabella I and King Ferdinand II agreed to sponsor a journey west. Columbus left Castile in August 1492 with three ships, and made landfall in the Americas on 12 October (ending the period of human habitation in the Americas now referred to as the pre-Columbian era). His landing place was an island in the Bahamas, known by its native inhabitants as Guanahani. Columbus subsequently visited the islands now known as Cuba and Hispaniola, establishing a colony in what is now Haiti. Columbus returned to Castile in early 1493, bringing a number of captured natives with him. Word of his voyages soon spread throughout Europe. Columbus made three further voyages to the Americas, exploring the Lesser Antilles in 1493, Trinidad and the northern coast of South America in 1498, and the eastern coast of Central America in 1502. Many of the names he gave to geographical features—particularly islands—are still in use. He also gave the name indios ("Indians") to the indigenous peoples he encountered. The extent to which he was aware that the Americas were a wholly separate landmass is uncertain; he never clearly renounced his belief that he had reached the Far East. As a colonial governor, Columbus was accused by his contemporaries of significant brutality and was soon removed from the post. Columbus's strained relationship with the Crown of Castile and its appointed colonial administrators in America led to his arrest and removal from Hispaniola in 1500, and later to protracted litigation over the benefits that he and his heirs claimed were owed to them by the crown. Columbus's expeditions inaugurated a period of exploration, conquest, and colonization that lasted for centuries, helping create the modern Western world. The transfers between the Old World and New World that followed his first voyage are known as the Columbian exchange. Columbus was widely venerated in the centuries after his death, but public perception has fractured in recent decades as scholars give greater attention to the harm committed under his governance, particularly the near-extermination of Hispaniola's indigenous Taíno population from mistreatment and European diseases, as well as their enslavement. Proponents of the Black Legend theory of history claim that Columbus has been unfairly maligned as part of a wider anti-Catholic sentiment. Many places in the Western Hemisphere bear his name, including the country of Colombia and the District of Columbia.

Photo of Amerigo Vespucci

3. Amerigo Vespucci (1454 - 1512)

With an HPI of 87.82, Amerigo Vespucci is the 3rd most famous Italian Explorer.  His biography has been translated into 94 different languages.

Amerigo Vespucci (; Italian: [ameˈriːɡo veˈsputtʃi]; 9 March 1451 – 22 February 1512) was an Italian-born merchant, explorer, and navigator from the Republic of Florence, from whose name the term "America" is derived. He became a Castillian citizen in 1505. Between 1497 and 1504, Vespucci participated in at least two voyages of the Age of Discovery, first on behalf of Spain (1499–1500) and then for Portugal (1501–1502). In 1503 and 1505, two booklets were published under his name, containing colourful descriptions of these explorations and other alleged voyages. Both publications were extremely popular and widely read across much of Europe. Although historians still dispute the authorship and veracity of these accounts, at the time they were instrumental in raising awareness of the new discoveries and enhancing the reputation of Vespucci as an explorer and navigator. Vespucci claimed to have understood, back in 1501 during his Portuguese expedition, that Brazil was part of a continent new to Europeans, which he called the New World. The claim inspired cartographer Martin Waldseemüller to recognize Vespucci's accomplishments in 1507 by applying the Latinized form "America" for the first time to a map showing the New World. Other cartographers followed suit, and by 1532 the name America was permanently affixed to the newly discovered continents. It is unknown whether Vespucci was ever aware of these honours. In 1505, he was made a citizen of Castile by royal decree and in 1508, he was appointed to the newly created position of piloto mayor (master navigator) for Spain's Casa de Contratación (House of Trade) in Seville, a post he held until his death in 1512.

Photo of John Cabot

4. John Cabot (1450 - 1498)

With an HPI of 76.71, John Cabot is the 4th most famous Italian Explorer.  His biography has been translated into 66 different languages.

John Cabot (Italian: Giovanni Caboto [dʒoˈvanni kaˈbɔːto]; c. 1450 – c. 1500) was an Italian navigator and explorer. His 1497 voyage to the coast of North America under the commission of Henry VII of England is the earliest-known European exploration of coastal North America since the Norse visits to Vinland in the eleventh century. To mark the celebration of the 500th anniversary of Cabot's expedition, both the Canadian and British governments elected Cape Bonavista, Newfoundland as representing Cabot's first landing site. However, alternative locations have also been proposed.

Photo of Antonio Pigafetta

5. Antonio Pigafetta (1492 - 1531)

With an HPI of 75.06, Antonio Pigafetta is the 5th most famous Italian Explorer.  His biography has been translated into 39 different languages.

Antonio Pigafetta (Italian: [anˈtɔːnjo piɡaˈfetta]; c. 1491 – c. 1531) was an Italian scholar and explorer. He joined the expedition to the Spice Islands led by explorer Ferdinand Magellan under the flag of King Charles I of Spain and after Magellan's death in the Philippine Islands, the subsequent voyage around the world. During the expedition, he served as Magellan's assistant and kept an accurate journal, which later assisted him in translating the Cebuano language. It is the first recorded document concerning the language. Pigafetta was one of the 18 men who made the complete trip, returning to Spain in 1522, under the command of Juan Sebastián Elcano, out of the approximately 240 who set out three years earlier. These men completed the first circumnavigation of the world. Others mutinied and returned in the first year. Pigafetta's surviving journal is the source for much of what is known about Magellan and Elcano's voyage. At least one warship of the Italian Navy, a destroyer of the Navigatori class, was named after him in 1931.

Photo of Giovanni da Verrazzano

6. Giovanni da Verrazzano (1485 - 1528)

With an HPI of 74.90, Giovanni da Verrazzano is the 6th most famous Italian Explorer.  His biography has been translated into 48 different languages.

Giovanni da Verrazzano (US: VERR-ə-ZAH-noh, -⁠ət-SAH-, Italian: [dʒoˈvanni da (v)verratˈtsaːno], sometimes incorrectly spelled Verrazano; 1485–1528) was an Italian (Florentine) explorer of North America, in the service of King Francis I of France. He is renowned as the first European to explore the Atlantic coast of North America between Florida and New Brunswick in 1524, including New York Bay and Narragansett Bay.

Photo of Giovanni Battista Belzoni

7. Giovanni Battista Belzoni (1778 - 1823)

With an HPI of 71.22, Giovanni Battista Belzoni is the 7th most famous Italian Explorer.  His biography has been translated into 38 different languages.

Giovanni Battista Belzoni (Italian pronunciation: [dʒoˈvanni batˈtista belˈtsoːni]; 5 November 1778 – 3 December 1823), sometimes known as The Great Belzoni, was a prolific Italian explorer and pioneer archaeologist of Egyptian antiquities. He is known for his removal to England of the seven-tonne bust of Ramesses II, the clearing of sand from the entrance of the great temple at Abu Simbel, the discovery and documentation of the tomb of Seti I (still sometimes known as "Belzoni's Tomb"), including the Sarcophagus of Seti I, and the first to penetrate into the Pyramid of Khafre, the second pyramid of the Giza complex.

Photo of Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza

8. Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza (1852 - 1905)

With an HPI of 70.82, Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza is the 8th most famous Italian Explorer.  His biography has been translated into 39 different languages.

Pietro Paolo Savorgnan di Brazzà, later known as Pierre Paul François Camille Savorgnan de Brazza; 26 January 1852 – 14 September 1905), was an Italian-born, naturalized French explorer. With his family's financial help, he explored the Ogooué region of Central Africa, and later with the backing of the Société de Géographie de Paris, he reached far into the interior along the right bank of the Congo. His friendly manner, great charm and peaceful approach made him popular among Africans. Under French colonial rule, the capital of the Republic of the Congo was named Brazzaville after him and the name was retained by the post-colonial rulers, the only African nation to do so.

Photo of Sebastian Cabot

9. Sebastian Cabot (1484 - 1557)

With an HPI of 70.43, Sebastian Cabot is the 9th most famous Italian Explorer.  His biography has been translated into 27 different languages.

Sebastian Cabot (Italian and Venetian: Sebastiano Caboto, Italian: [sebaˈstjaːno kaˈbɔːto]; Spanish: Sebastián Caboto, Gaboto or Cabot; c. 1474 – c. December 1557) was a Venetian explorer, likely born in the Venetian Republic and a Venetian citizen. He was the son of Venetian explorer John Cabot (Giovanni Caboto) and his Venetian wife Mattea. After his father's death, Cabot conducted his own voyages of discovery, seeking the Northwest Passage through North America for England. He later sailed for Spain, traveling to South America, where he explored the Rio de la Plata and established two new forts.

Photo of Alvise Cadamosto

10. Alvise Cadamosto (1432 - 1488)

With an HPI of 68.73, Alvise Cadamosto is the 10th most famous Italian Explorer.  His biography has been translated into 24 different languages.

Alvise Cadamosto or Alvide da Ca' da Mosto (Portuguese pronunciation: [alˈvis kɐðaˈmoʃtu, alˈvizɨ -], also known in Portuguese as Luís Cadamosto; c. 1432 – July 18, 1488) was a Venetian explorer and slave trader, who was hired by the Portuguese prince Henry the Navigator and undertook two known journeys to West Africa in 1455 and 1456, accompanied by the Genoese captain Antoniotto Usodimare. Cadamosto and his companions are credited with the discovery of the Cape Verde Islands and the points along the Guinea coast, from the Gambia River to the Geba River (in Guinea-Bissau), the greatest leap in the Henrican discoveries since 1446. Cadamosto's accounts of his journeys, including his detailed observations of West African societies, have proven invaluable to historians.

Pantheon has 16 people classified as explorers born between 1254 and 1852. Of these 16, none of them are still alive today. The most famous deceased explorers include Marco Polo, Christopher Columbus, and Amerigo Vespucci. As of October 2020, 1 new explorers have been added to Pantheon including Cristoforo Buondelmonti.

Deceased Explorers

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Newly Added Explorers (2020)

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Which Explorers were alive at the same time? This visualization shows the lifespans of the 4 most globally memorable Explorers since 1700.