An Italian explorer, Christopher Columbus, wanted to discover a direct water route from Europe to Asia. In his four voyages across the Atlantic Ocean from Spain, however, what he ended up discovering was not Asia, but America. Though he was not the first one to land in America, his historical journey began what eventually turned into Spanish colonization of America.
Marco Polo was a Venetian explorer, writer, and merchant. He explored Asia along the Silk Road and is credited with providing the Europeans with descriptions of the culture of the Eastern world, which remained unknown until his exploration. Polo's travel book inspired other travelers like Christopher Columbus. His writings also influenced European cartography, which led to the Fra Mauro map.
Amerigo Vespucci was a merchant, navigator, and explorer. Credited with participating in two major voyages of the Age of Discovery, Vespucci's claim that the New World represented a new continent inspired cartographers to associate the name America (a Latinized form of his first name) to the newly discovered continents.
Italian mountaineer and explorer Reinhold Messner teamed up with Austrian mountaineer Peter Habeler to be the first to climb Mount Everest without using oxygen cylinders. He is also the first to complete a solo ascent of Everest and the first to climb all the 14 mountain peaks that stand above 8000m.
Antonio Pigafetta was an Italian explorer and scholar. He was part of the famous expedition to the Spice Islands, which was led by Ferdinand Magellan. Pigafetta served as Magellan's assistant during the expedition and kept a journal, which is the first recorded document pertaining to the Cebuano language. Antonio Pigafetta was among the men who achieved the world's first circumnavigation.
Andrea Doria, also known as the Prince of Melfi, was not just an able soldier and an efficient naval commander, but also the ruler of the Republic of Genoa. He fought the pirates and the Turks and also reformed Genoa’s constitution, introducing an oligarchic government.
Giovanni Battista Belzoni was an Italian explorer and archaeologist of Egyptian antiquities. A pioneer in the field of Egyptian archaeology, Belzoni was the first person to enter the famous Pyramid of Khafre. Belzoni is also credited with unblocking the entrance of the temple at Abu Simbel and discovering the tomb of Seti I, which is referred to as Belzoni's Tomb.
10 Freya Stark
Freya Stark was an Anglo-Italian travel writer and explorer. One of the first non-Arabs to explore the southern Arabian Desert, Stark penned down over 24 books on her travels in Afghanistan and the Middle East. She also wrote many essays and autobiographical works. In 1968, Freya Stark embarked on her last expedition to Afghanistan at the age of 75.
Walter Bonatti was an Italian explorer, mountain climber, and journalist. He made a solo climb of a new route on the southwest pillar of the Aiguille du Dru in August 1955, among other achievements. He retired from mountaineering at the age of 35 and pursued a career as a reporter. He also wrote several books on mountaineering.
Born into an Italian noble family, Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza had had his first taste of exploration when he traveled to Algeria aboard a ship in his early days. He later explored Africa, eventually founding French Congo, now the Republic of Congo, and the city Brazzaville, while also becoming a French citizen.
Achille Compagnoni was a Lombard skier and mountaineer best remembered for his expedition to K2, the second-highest mountain in the world. Compagnoni was among the men who reached the summit of K2 on 31 July 1954. As a skier, Achille Compagnoni took part in the fourth edition of Trofeo Mezzalama where he helped his team finish second.
The son of Spanish king Amadeus, Prince Luigi Amedeo, also known as the Duke of the Abruzzia, was a passionate mountaineer and explorer, who scripted history by becoming the first to climb Mount St. Elias in Alaska. He also conquered the world’s second-highest peak, K2, and even explored parts of Africa.
Niccolò de' Conti was an Italian explorer, merchant, and writer who traveled to Southeast Asia during the early 15th century. His work proved beneficial while creating the 1450 Fra Mauro map, which is regarded as the greatest memorial of medieval cartography. The map also indicated the possibility of a sea route from Europe to India.
Umberto Nobile was an Italian aeronautical engineer, Arctic explorer, and aviator. A developer of semi-rigid airships, Nobile is best remembered for designing the airship Norge, which was the first airship to fly across the polar ice cap between America and Europe. Umberto Nobile is also credited with designing and piloting the airship Italia, which belonged to the Italian Air Force.
Odoric of Pordenone was an Italian Franciscan missionary explorer and friar. Odoric, who traveled far and wide, penned down the narrative of his travels, which are preserved even today in Italian, French, and Latin manuscripts. Many incredible accounts of Sir John Mandeville have proven to be merely distorted versions of Odoric's original eyewitness descriptions.
The son of Neapolitan financier Lorenzo de Tonti, Henri de Tonti was a fearless officer of the French army but lost his right hand in battle. He is also remembered as a passionate explorer who helped in the North American colonization campaigns, sailing along Illinois and Mississippi.
Italian traveler Lodovico de Varthema was one of the first non-Islamic Europeans to travel to Mecca for a pilgrimage, by either converting to Islam or pretending to. He also set foot in India and visited places such as Goa, Calicut, and Vijayanagar. He was eventually knighted for his achievements.
Venetian traveler Alvise Cadamosto is best-known for having written the earliest-known treatises on Africa. Financed by Prince Henry the Navigator from Portugal, he embarked on a voyage to Africa. He and his men were perhaps the first Europeans to visit Cape Verde Islands. His portolan chart was used by later voyagers.
Italian traveler Pietro della Valle, known for his voyages to India and Persia, was also a talented musicologist and composer. In Baghdad, he married a Syrian Christian woman, who died in Persia. He later also touched Surat and Calicut in India. His three-volume treatise on his travels focuses on Turkey, Persia, and India.
23 Ardito Desio
A mountaineer and a cartographer, Ardito Desio was also a professor of geology. He is best remembered for leading a team of 12 climbers, 4 scientists, a doctor, and a photographer to conquer the Abruzzi Ridge amid extreme weather conditions, and then reach K2, despite losing a member to pneumonia.
Giovanni de' Marignolli, also known as John of Marignolli, was a 14th-cenntury Franciscan friar who also traveled far and wide. He created history by becoming the first Catholic European to travel to China and India. Though he was detained in Ceylon, he managed to travel to Avignon through Iran.
Medieval Franciscan friar Giovanni da Pian del Carpine was also the first major European traveler to the Mongol region, where he was sent on a mission by Pope Innocent IV. His treatise of his experiences was recorded as Historia Mongalorum and Liber Tartarorum. He later earned the archbishopric of Primate of Serbia.
26 Romolo Gessi
Romolo Gessi, also known as Gessi Pasha, was not just an Italian soldier but also an explorer who participated in the exploration of the Nile. He also became the first to circumnavigate Uaganda’s Lake Albert Nyanza. As a soldier, he served the British Empire in Sudan and the Crimea.
Italian explorer Luigi Robecchi-Bricchetti was the first person from Europe to cross the Somali peninsula. An illegitimate son of a landowner, he was raised by his mother. Initially interested in civil engineering, he later deviated toward geography and geology, even learning languages such as Arabic and German.
Italian explorer Pellegrino Matteucci scripted history by becoming the first European to cover the entire African continent north of the Equator. A qualified doctor, he aspired to be a missionary in Africa. He, unfortunately, succumbed to a severe fever that he had contracted while traveling.
Italian explorer Carlo Piaggia is best known for his exploration of Lake Kyoga in Uganda and the upper Nile River system. Though he belonged to a poor family and had very little formal education, his thirst for knowledge led him to learn about the geography and natural history of African nations.