‘Verrazzano Day’ in Greve in Chianti: A Bridge Between Tuscany & the U.S.


Luigi Cappellini at the Verrazzano Castle/photo copyright Andrea Pistolesi

Every year the town of Greve in Chianti celebrates its most famous ‘home-town boy” Giovanni da Verrazzano on April 17. This year, particularly special, commemorates the 500-year anniversary of the day the explorer sailed into New York Bay on April 17, 1524.

The town of Greve and the Giovanni da Verrazzano Foundation have organized three days of events beginning on April 14 with the inauguration of an art exhibition based on his connections between the town and the New World. On April 17 the central piazza serves as the site for locals, visitors and dignitaries to memorialize the explorer and his discoveries.

Later that day the public is invited to the Verrazzano Castle for a discussion on “Europe-America: 500 Years of Cultural Relations,” and presentation of the book Giovanni da Verrazzano Navigator and Gentleman by Marco Hagge journalist and former mayor of Greve in Chianti. The book, recently translated into English and the first biography of Verrazzano, contains a preface by Eugenio Giani, the president of the Tuscan Region. Recent presentations in New York City and various Italian cities has been well received.  Prior to the launch in Greve, there will also be a book presentation in Florence on April 16 at the Oblate Library in the Sala Sibilla Aleramo at 5 pm.  The public is invited.

Finally, on April 18 the church of Santa Croce in Greve presents a concert of original music composed specially for the occasion.

One of the most popular weekend excursions near Florence for tourists and Florentines alike is the beautiful Tuscan town, Greve in Chianti.  Come on a Saturday morning and here you will find a thriving market selling everything from olives to hardware, flowers and whole roasted pig.  Wander through the stalls and taste the local wares but be sure to notice the imposing bronze statue of Giovanni da Verrazzano peering over the crowd, a 16th century explorer who was the first European, after the Norsemen, to set foot on North American soil.

Just  north of Greve high on a hilltop is the Castello Verrazzano, birthplace of Giovanni da Verrazzano, now a winery that offers tours and wine tasting.  Tracing the story of the Florentine navigator, Luigi Cappellini, current owner and president of the Verrazzano Center for Historical Studies. He describes the navigator-humanist,

“He was well-educated, a mathematician, scientist, astronomer, businessman, mercenary, cartographer and he even did his own navigation for his voyages.  A true man of the Renaissance,” says Cappellini.

Throughout the 15th  century and early 16th century, exploration and colonization of the non-European world were dominated by Portugal and Spain who made a treaty to literally divide the world between them. The young ambitious King Francis I of France, realizing his power was threatened and wanting to partake of the great wealth of newly discovered lands, engaged Giovanni da Verrazzano to sail to the Terra Nova and search for a northwest passage to Asia and its spices, gold and silver.

Verrazzano set sail early in 1524 on the three-masted vessel Le Dauphine, with a crew of 50, food for eight months, arms and naval munitions. After encountering violent storms and a close encounter with a Spanish ship, in early March the sailors saw land and observed large bonfires, determining the area was inhabited. This coast, present day Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, he named Selva dei Lauri. Within a few days the Dauphine sailed past the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Observing the large body of water inside, now known as Pamlico Sound, Verrazzano mistakenly thought he had found the route to the Pacific and wrote to King Francis,

“This is doubtless the sea which goes around the tip of India, China and Cathay.”

The explorer endeavored to establish French claim to the continent and named it Francesca, for his patron the French king.  The Europeans disembarked and explored the North Atlantic coast seven times and Verrazzano made detailed maps and descriptions of the region’s inhabitants, their appearance, attire and behavior, the shore and surrounding lands, flora and fauna. He also gave place names to many areas but none of the names he conferred have survived. His L’Annunciata became North Carolina and Rifugio we know as Washington, D.C. Perhaps the greatest indignity is the beautiful harbor with a great river flowing into it is not known as Baia di Santa Margherita Angouleme as he called it, but rather New York Harbor and the river was named after Dutch explorer Henry Hudson who arrived 85 years later.

In 1528 a new expedition was organized in which his brother Girolamo, a cartographer, also accompanied the crew. This voyage unfortunately became Verrazzano’s final voyage, his mission again to seek a passage to the Far East.

Sailing past Florida’s coast into the Caribbean Sea, they observed what appeared to be a lush and uninhabited island, probably now the island of Guadeloupe. Giovanni and six crewmen rowed ashore in a small boat.

There the Carib Indians attacked and killed the Europeans. Girolamo and crew, out of gun range, watched from the ship, horrified and helpless.

Mention the name Verrazzano in the US today and most people think of a bridge, the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge that spans the distance between Brooklyn and Staten Island. The tidal strait below the bridge is the spot where in 1524 Giovanni da Verrazzano entered the large bay, anchored and befriended the Lenape Indians.  It is on this bridge every year on the first Sunday in November the New York Marathon begins.


Sunday, April 14:  San Francesco Museum is hosting the inauguration of a show entitled, “Giovanni da Verrazzano 2024: An Artistic Bridge Between Greve and the USA”. The exhibition is a collaboration with the artists of the sister city of Rehoboth Beach, Delaware (4 pm).

Following on the museum terrace a postal stamp commemorating the 500th anniversary of Verrazzano’s voyage will be presented. At 5 pm, an aperitif and music continue the celebration.

Wednesday, April 17: Greve’s central Piazza Matteotti hosts the Deposition of the Crown at the Verrazzano Monument. In attendance will be Mayor Paolo Sottani, the US Consul General Daniela Ballard and representatives from the state of Delaware. The ceremony will be accompanied by music featuring the Attraroba Street Band (4 pm).

The Verrazzano Castle and winery hosts the discussion, “Europe-America: 500 Years of Cultural Relations” and presentation of the book Giovanni da Verrazzano Navigator and Gentleman by Marco Hagge (5:30 pm).

The talk will be followed by readings by the theatre group Compagnia delle Seggiole with selected passages from Verrazzano’s letters to King Francis I entitled “Most Serene King, Now That I Have Returned to You, I Will Report.”

Attendees are invited to an aperitif on the panoramic terrace of the castle after the events.

Thursday, April 18: The Church of Santa Croce in Greve presents a concert by the Greve in Chianti Chamber Orchestra performing a program dedicated to the theme “Two Worlds, One Music” (6 pm).  (rita kungel)