A letter penned by Christopher Columbus in 1493 was returned to its rightful resting place in Italy Wednesday, ending a years-long investigation into its theft and forgery, AFP reports.
The rare missive in which the Italian explorer describes his voyage to the Americas was tracked down several years ago in the Library of Congress in Washington.
“Five hundred years after it was written, the letter has made the same trip back from America,” Italian Culture Minister Dario Franceschini said at a ceremony in Rome to mark the handover, thanking US authorities for helping to return the precious document.
Columbus wrote the original letter to his patrons King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, a year after embarking on his historic journey across the Atlantic.
The explorer likely drafted the letter while voyaging back to Europe, dating it March 4, 1493, the day he landed in Lisbon.
The letter was then translated into Latin, the lingua franca of the time, and copies were made for distribution around Europe where it played a key role in expanding knowledge of the “New World.”
Eleven copies were made in 1493 and six others between 1494 and 1497. The printer Stephan Plannck published two of the first editions in Rome, and one copy became the property of the Riccardiana Library in Florence. At an unknown date, it was stolen from there and replaced with a forgery.
After receiving a tip off alerting them to the fraud in 2010, American investigators confirmed that a New York-based antiquarian book dealer had bought the letter in 1990.
Two years later it sold at auction for $300,000 to a buyer who donated it to the Library of Congress.
The file on the original theft remains open. The stolen letter will return to Florence and go on public display. No one knows what happened to the original Spanish text.
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