Columbus Day: The Italian Touch in America and Philadelphia

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As we approach the Columbus Day weekend, we are reminded of the Italians who left their mark on Philadelphia, and paved the way for the large Italian American population that has influenced our City for centuries. Below is a sampling of Italians who have contributed to the fabric of Philadelphia’s history.

Philadelphia is located along the Delaware River in the United States of America, on the North American continent. North America was discovered by Cristoforo Colombo, a Genoese sailing for Queen Isabel of Spain. America is named after Amerigo Vespucci, an Italian who sailed for the Portuguese. The Delaware was sited first by the Italian Verrazzano sailing for the French in 1524.

STATUE of Christopher Columbus adorns Marconi Plaza at Broad Street & Oregon Avenue in South Philadelphia, where Americans of Italian heritage and their friends will celebrate that heritage in a festival this Sunday after the parade.

What do we know of these explorers? Why were Italian sailors sailing for foreign powers?

We know the Renaissance was centered in Firenze (Florence), Italy and refocused on the glories of ancient Rome, led by Petrarch and other Italian scholars. Our Founding Fathers studied the classic Latin writings of Virgil, and Ovid. Ben Franklin was selling their books on Market Street as early as 1733.

The earliest Italian who visited Philadelphia in 1757 was Giovanni Palma. He attended a musical concert with George Washington! Ben Franklin welcomed the Pietro Biancardi, who was the first Italian to fly over the Delaware River in a hot-air balloon in 1793. In attendance were the first five United States presidents: Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe.

Giuseppe Ceracchi, an Italian sculptor, came to Philadelphia in the 1790s to sculpt Presidents Washington and Jefferson. His artwork remains on display in the Presidents’ House in Philadelphia and Monticello in Virginia.

One hundred Italians immigrated to Philadelphia in the 1700s, followed by thousands in the 1800s and the 1900s. Descendants of these immigrants are our family members and friends. They have added to the vibrancy of our city in big ways and small ways, as helpful neighbors and famous entertainers. We should use this weekend to remember and appreciate all their contributions.

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