Meanwhile the Portuguese, since the middle of the 15th century, were trying to find a sea route to India. In 1498 Vasco da Gama managed to reach India via the Cape of Good Hope and, what was more, to come back again in one piece. With a cargo of pepper, which amply covered the costs of the enterprise. Portuguese spice trade boomed. That soon attracted the attention of the competition, and it wasn’t long before Portugal was elbowed out of the market by aggressive entrepreneurs from Holland and England, who protected their newly gained monopoly with cannon and coastal forts. The Venetians and Genoese, until then the main importers of Oriental goods, were marginalized.
Now that the Italian city-states found themselves left empty-handed, efforts were initiated to find new trade routes to the Indies. It is no coincidence that John Cabot (the discoverer of Newfoundland, born as Giovanni Caboto) as well as Christopher Columbus and Amerigo Vespucci all came from Italian trading cities. Cabot, who moved to Venice at an early age, was, like Columbus, Genoese by birth; Vespucci came from Florence. Columbus was the most successful of the three. He gained the support of King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile, who had united their kingdoms in which, thanks to Columbus’ discovery, would become a veritable superpower: Spain.
An abundant flow of gold and silver was the most enviable treasure the New World earned the Spanish Crown. But along with these precious metals all sorts of curious things came to Europe that would ultimately prove to be of far greater value, like tomatoes, potatoes, corn, green beans, pumpkins, cocoa and -last but not least- chili peppers.
© 2016, Marcel Wick