Discovery and Exploration, 1000-1562

Author: Paolo Del Pozzo Toscanelli  | Date: 1474

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Letters from Toscanelli Approving Columbus’ Project

I HAVE become acquainted with the great and noble wish entertained by you, to visit the country of spices, on which account I send in answer to your letter, the copy of one directed by me, a few days since, to one of my friends, in the service of the King of Portugal before the wars of Castile; he having written to me, by order of His Highness, upon the same subject. I also send you a nautical chart, similar to one which I likewise presented to him; these may perhaps satisfy your inquiries. The copy of my letter is as follows:

To Fernando Martinez, prebendary of Lisbon, greeting—I feel a great pleasure in hearing of the intimacy between you and the Most Serene and Magnificent King. Although I have spoken many times concerning the short passage by sea from hence to the Indies, where the spices are produced, which course, in my opinion is shorter than that to Guinea, yet you inform me that His Highness wishes for some declaration or demonstration on my part, whereby he may more fully understand the matter. This I could do to his satisfaction, with the help of a terrestrial globe, instructing him how the parts of the earth are disposed. But for greater facility and precision, I have determined to mark down the route in question upon a marine chart, which I herewith send to his majesty, drawn and painted by my hand. In this is represented the whole extremity of the W., from Ireland, S. to Guinea, with all the islands in the whole extent. Opposite, in the W. is the commencement of the Indies, with the isles and accessible parts, and the space between the North pole and the Equinoctial line. In this manner will be perceived the number of leagues necessary to proceed in order to reach those fertile countries which abound in spices and precious stones. Let it not create wonder that a westerly region is assigned for the country of spices, which have always been understood to grow in the E.; for those who sail W. will find those lands in the W., and those who travel E., will find the same places in the E. The straight lines, which run lengthwise upon the chart, show the distance from W. to E. The oblique ones, the distance from N. to S. I have also marked down many places among the Indies, which may be reached by the occurrence of some casual event, such as contrary winds, or unlooked for accident of that sort. And in order that you may be made fully acquainted with whatever relates to this subject, I will give you the result of my investigations. The islands I have spoken of, are inhabited by merchants who carry on their trade among many nations; their ports contain a greater number of foreign vessels than those of any other part of the world. The single port of Zaiton, which is one of the finest and most famous throughout the E., sends forth annually, more than a hundred ships laden with pepper, not to mention others, which return with cargoes of all sorts of spices. The whole territory is very extensive and populous, containing many provinces and kingdoms, under the dominion of a prince called Great Can, which signifies King of Kings. The common residence of this sovereign is in Cathay. His predecessors were desirous of an intercourse with the Christians, and two hundred years since, dispatched ambassadors to the Pope, requesting instructors to teach them our holy faith. These, however, were unable, from the obstacles they encountered upon their journey, to reach Rome, and were forced to return back. In the time of Pope Eugenius IV. there came an ambassador, who gave him assurances of the affection which was entertained for the Catholics by the princes and people of his country. I was a great deal in his company, and he gave me descriptions of the magnificence of his king, and of the immense rivers in that territory, which contained, as he stated, two hundred cities with marble bridges, upon the banks of a single stream. This is a noble country, and ought to be explored by us, on account of its great riches, and the quantity of gold, silver, and precious stones, which might be obtained there. For their governors, they choose the wisest men, without regard to rank or riches. You will perceive by the map, that the distance from Lisbon, to the famous city of Quisay, is three thousand nine hundred miles, going exactly W. This city is thirty-five leagues in circuit, and its name signifies City of Heaven. Its situation is in the province of Mango near Cathay, and it contains ten large marble bridges built upon immense columns, of singular magnificence. From the island of Antilla to that of Cipango is a distance of two hundred and twenty-five leagues. This island possesses such an abundance of precious stones and metals that the temples and royal palaces are covered with plates of gold. I might add many things here, but as I have formerly given you a relation of them, I trust to your wisdom and good judgment, without making any further addition to this statement. I hope my letter will satisfy His Highness, and I beg you will assure him, that I shall be always ready to execute his commands.

Florence, June 25th, 1474.


I HAVE received your letter with its accompaniment, for which I return you my thanks. I applaud your design of sailing to the West, and am persuaded, as you will have seen by my chart, that the voyage you intend to undertake has none of the difficulties ascribed to it. The passage, in my opinion, will be found easy and safe, in the quarters which I have pointed out. You would entertain no doubt upon this matter, had you conversed with the many persons from those countries, whom I have seen. You may be certain of meeting with extensive kingdoms, populous cities, and rich provinces, abounding in all sorts of precious stones, and your visit will cause great rejoicing to the king and princes of those distant lands, besides opening a way for a communication between them and the Christians, and the instruction of them in the Catholic religion and the arts we possess. For which reasons, and many others which might be mentioned, I am not surprised at the courage and resolution manifested by you, and the whole Portuguese nation, which has never been deficient in eminent men.


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Chicago: Paolo Del Pozzo Toscanelli, "Letters from Toscanelli Approving Columbus’ Project," Discovery and Exploration, 1000-1562 in America, Vol.1, Pp.94-97 Original Sources, accessed April 14, 2024,

MLA: Toscanelli, Paolo Del Pozzo. "Letters from Toscanelli Approving Columbus’ Project." Discovery and Exploration, 1000-1562, in America, Vol.1, Pp.94-97, Original Sources. 14 Apr. 2024.

Harvard: Toscanelli, PD, 'Letters from Toscanelli Approving Columbus’ Project' in Discovery and Exploration, 1000-1562. cited in , America, Vol.1, Pp.94-97. Original Sources, retrieved 14 April 2024, from